On Jan. 2, 1492, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon occupied Granada, completing their conquest of Moorish Spain. Ever since, Spain has always had a government — and occasionally two, when Napoleon invaded in 1808, and during the 1936 to 1939 civil war that split it. But never during those more than five centuries was it ever without any. That is, until Dec. 20 last year, when elections failed to give any party the majority needed to form a government and all attempts at a coalition failed.
Elections had to be repeated; the second attempt, on June 26, ended with very similar results, hence the continuing uncertainty. Negotiations carry on, without much hope. For exactly 253 days Spain has been unable to elect a new government and, as time goes by, more people wonder if it really is that serious.
Obviously, a provisional, “caretaker” government is in place; but it has limitations. For instance, it cannot appoint new ministers. From its original 13-member cabinet, 10 are left: Its minister of development is heading Congress, the minister of health is now a candidate for the local Parliament in the Basque Country, and the minister of industry is busy explaining his Panamanian bank accounts. The caretaker government has no authority to approve next year’s budget, a basic tool for governing that should be in place this October; experts are poring over legal texts in search of a line that suggests authority. The government takes advantage, however, of the (most likely unconstitutional) opinion that acting government ministers are not subjected to parliamentary control. It has been nine months since Parliament enacted any laws: Its members are too busy campaigning and negotiating.
These days, the “meanwhile” government manages everyday matters, and not particularly well. In a situation that lacks clear legal status, no one wants to be in charge of important decisions, affairs are delayed and decisions are never made. The embassies in Washington, Moscow and Rome are among the 44 in the hands of diplomats who should have been replaced but can’t be by a caretaker government.
This week Mariano Rajoy will try to be reinstated as a fully functional prime minister: His options are not clear. If he fails, his party will probably call for new elections to be held on Dec. 25. The hope that the Christ Child or Santa will finally bring a government is an overstated mockery.
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