Spanish election goes Venezuelan
By Sarah Morris
A month ahead of the next Spanish election, the economic and political crisis in Venezuela has become central to debate.
The situation in the South American country was discussed at a national security meeting on Friday by Mariano Rajoy's caretaker government.
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Critics said the move was designed to grab votes by attacking the anti-austerity party Podemos for its links to the government of deceased Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Rajoy's conservative People’s Party (PP) lost its absolute majority in December's election, but the Socialist Party (PSOE) also fared badly as millions of voters angry over political corruption and austerity measures switched to Podemos and a liberal newcomer, Ciudadanos.
The new political balance prevented the PP and the PSOE from forming a government.
Most polls suggest the 26 June re-run will also deliver a fragmented parliament and that abstention could increase.
The acting Rajoy government at its security meeting decided to review salaries and security levels for Spanish public sector staff in Venezuela because of wild inflation and street violence. It also considered increasing numbers of consular staff to take care of the some 200,000 Spanish nationals who live there.
Its decision came amid political tension in Caracas, where president Nicolas Maduro is fighting an opposition bid to oust him by referendum.
He regularly denounces foreign conspirators based in Madrid or Miami, in the US.
Earlier this week, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera visited Venezuela to meet members of the opposition, including Lilian Tintori, wife of imprisoned activist Leopoldo Lopez.
"I’m asking Podemos to help free political prisoners from jail since they have the ear of the regime and know it well,” Rivera said.
Podemos - which came third in Spain’s last election in December - has distanced itself recently from Maduro, but its leader Pablo Iglesias and other leaders had previously praised Chavez.
Juan Carlos Monedero, one of Podemos' founding members, worked as a consultant for Chavez as well as for left-wing governments in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Last year, he admitted he had had to correct a 2013 tax declaration of €425,000 for money earned from that work.
"I’m asking Podemos to recognise what’s happening in Venezuela, to recognise that it is a failure”, Rivera said.
Closing down Podemos’ strategy
Linking Podemos to the economic disaster in Venezuela could scare some centrist voters worried about Spain’s fragile economic recovery with 21 percent of workers still unemployed.
“This is about situating Podemos on the most radical left-wing,” said political scientist Pablo Simon. “They are trying to close down Podemos’ strategy of attracting anyone unhappy with the establishment.”
Emphasising Podemos’ links with radical Latin American socialism could also interest Spain’s Socialist Party as it seeks to retain centre-left voters.
During five months of negotiations, PSOE's Pedro Sanchez was the only party leader to make an investiture speech in the parliament after agreeing a 200-point government programme with Ciudadanos.
Podemos failed to support him, demanding a coalition government with Iglesias as deputy prime minister, and Sanchez had to give up forming a cabinet.
The PSOE risks being overtaken by Podemos and a smaller left-wing party, Izquierda Unida, after the two decided to present joint lists to offset the punitive effect of Spain’s electoral law on smaller parties dispersed throughout Spain.
'Coward! Come to Venezuela'
If the Socialists slip into third place, their bargaining power with Podemos will be weaker still.
The Venezuela debate gave the PP’s Rajoy respite from questions over corruption scandals and over a letter he sent to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in which he promised to introduce further measures later this year to reduce the budget deficit after Spain overshot its commission target. He earlier promised tax cuts.
Spain’s budget deficit is expected to come in at 3.9 percent of its gross domestic product this year, above the EU target of 3 percent.
Venezuela’s Maduro mocked Spanish politicians for talking about his country. “If you all want to debate, come here Rajoy!” he said at a rally, shown on Spanish state TV.
“Coward! Come to Venezuela and we’ll have the prime minister debate here and I’ll present myself and I’ll win the elections in Spain!”