Is Spain facing the end of democracy, a condition that was restored less than half a century ago?

It isn’t just foreigners who are constantly asking this worrisome question. We Spaniards are asking it ourselves as 2023 comes to a close.

The concern stems from elections held this year and the government it produced. That it is called a “Frankenstein coalition” gives a sense of why many of us worry.

In November, Pedro Sanchez was again sworn in as prime minister—or “president of the government” as is the custom in Spain. His socialist party—the Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol (PSOE)—had not won the elections, but the party that had won the most votes, the conservative Partido Popular, had not been able to put together a parliamentary majority. The PSOE was able to.

That wasn’t the problem. The problem lies in what type of coalition Sanchez put together.

There are three main objections to Sanchez’s government. First, let’s deal with the criticism of his coalition partners.

Sanchez crossed all manner of red lines by bringing into the coalition parties that openly advocate for the liquidation of constitutional Spain. Contrary to what happens in other European countries—say, Germany, Italy, France or Portugal—Spain does allow alliances that openly advocate for disposing of the Spanish Constitution.

It just hadn’t happened before.

Sanchez is the first Spanish leader since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and the adoption of the Constitution in 1978 to forge a governing alliance with a party openly against the Constitution.

That set off political alarm bells.

In fact, when Sanchez first floated the idea in 2016, the PSOE’s traditional leaders drummed him out of leadership. It was they who first characterized that project as a “Frankenstein alliance.”

But Sanchez returned and won a PSOE leadership election and, in June 2018, he managed to organize a parliamentary majority with the backing of parties that were openly opposed to the Constitution and the consensus on which Spanish democracy had been founded after Franco’s regime.

That coalition included Podemos (roughly translated as “Yes, We Can,” which Barack Obama himself had pilfered from Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers’ “Si, se puede!”). Podemos was founded in 2014 by former Spanish advisers to Venezuela’s Marxist dictator, Hugo Chavez. It wasn’t just openly communist. Above all, it was determined to contest the role that the Left had played in reaching the post-Franco, post-1978 consensus on the main issues.

Sanchez’s 2018 coalition also included ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Cataluna), a secessionist party from the eastern region of Catalonia, whose leader was imprisoned for the attempted 2017 secession of Catalonia from Spain.

But the development that most troubled Spanish society was the pact with Bildu, the party that took the reins from the Basque terrorist group ETA. For Americans acquainted with the Irish situation, Bildu is the Spanish equivalent Sinn Fein.

These two parties weren’t in the government—they had no ministers—but only supported Sanchez’s government.

That 2018 governing coalition would have been insufficient to reach a parliamentary majority today. So, in order to keep the power he craves, Sanchez this year incorporated a new partner: Junts Per Catalunya (Junts), or Together for Catalonia.

It’s yet another secessionist party, whose leader is a fugitive from Spanish justice and lives in Belgium, and whose support for Sanchez is based on a key precondition; namely, the dismantling of the rule of law in Spain.  

The concessions that Sanchez made to this new partner leads directly to the second group of objections.

Even before this new partner, Sanchez had paid a heavy price in order to ensure his partners’ support. Podemos joined the government, with its leader occupying the position of deputy prime minister. It made Spain the only democracy with communists in the government.

ERC, meanwhile, progressed with its plans to ban the Spanish language from the classrooms of Catalonia. And Bildu achieved benefits for ETA terrorists behind bars in exchange for their support for the government’s budgets.

But now the concessions that Junts has squeezed out of Sanchez go much further. In exchange for its seven votes in parliament—without which Sanchez wouldn’t have returned as prime minister—the party wrung from him concessions such as an amnesty for the Junts leaders hiding overseas, which violates the Constitution.

In another mind-boggling concession, Sanchez has agreed to commence a procedure to prosecute judges who may oppose the changes because they consider them contrary to the Constitution.

Because now, in order to grant his partners what they ask for, Sanchez must first dismantle the rule of law. And that’s the third and most serious—and most worrisome—objection to Sanchez’s drift.

Not so long ago, in Venezuela, the voices that warned against the deterioration of the country’s institutions under Chavez were silenced. “Venezuela is not Cuba,” they said. Spain is not Venezuela, either, but although it’s more striking to demolish a building with one blow than to do it screw by screw, the outcome is the same.

During the past five years, Sanchez has been colonizing Spain’s constitutional institutions, placing what until now have been independent institutions in the hands of loyal collaborators and encouraging the “alternative use of the law” to make the Constitution say what the Constitution does not say.

And without law, there is no democracy.

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