A few days after the July Spanish elections I wrote an article entitled “Spain on the edge of the cliff” in which I took for granted the pact between the Socialist Party (PSOE) and its separatist allies. Now that this has been consummated after a theatrical tug-of-war, no one can remain impassive or pretend any kind of normality, since all limits have been breached: the government itself is blowing up the constitutional order with an agenda of demolition that it shares -without any imposition- with its separatist partners.
We are facing a self-coup attempt, that is, an attempt to “violate the current legality by those who are in power in order to entrench themselves in it”. This is not a matter of partisanship, but a matter of State: our already weakened Rule of Law has been sentenced to death by a government that intends to make the Constitution a worthless piece of paper and replace the rule of law by the supreme will of an individual, justice by arbitrariness. How have we reached this point after all the effort we have made to get here?
The Constitution is the fundamental law that recognizes the rights and freedoms of citizens and limits the powers of the political system, that is, the stable framework that sets the boundaries of action of any government, ensuring the separation of powers and preventing democracy from being transformed into the tyranny of an individual endowed with a parliamentary majority. In order to prevent a simple majority from being able to modify the constitutional text at will, its reform requires very strong majorities in both Congress and the Senate and the direct ratification of the people through a referendum.
Therefore, there are two ways for an aspiring tyrant like Sanchez to circumvent the constitutional limits. The first is to obtain an overwhelming majority that allows him to carry out the reform through the established procedure. The second and simpler method is to control the Supreme Court (called Constitutional Court in Spain) so that it may rule as perfectly constitutional what is not, as Chávez did when he took over the Venezuelan Supreme Court in 2004. As Human Rights Watch denounced, “the defining characteristic of Chávez’s presidency was the manifest disregard for the principle of separation of powers”. Sanchez shares this contempt and counts since the beginning of 2023 in the Constitutional Court with a group of unscrupulous “Justices” led by one who behaves as a political commissar pretending to be an astute man of laws, so that the reality is that in Spain there does not seem to be a Constitutional Court worthy of the name any longer, but one that acts as a puppet of the government, Venezuela-style. In fact, Sanchez anticipated more than a month ago that all agreements with his pro-independence allies would be “validated by the Constitutional Court” in case the opposition appealed them. “Have no doubt,” he added.
Of course, this is the obscene culmination of decades of abuse by the two major parties in their drive to undermine the independence of the judiciary through a system of “quotas” alien to the spirit of the Constitution. However, there used to be red lines of decency, ethics and professionalism that were not crossed. These limits no longer exist: party members sit in the Constitutional Court (including one former Socialist Minister), and there is a succession of Bulgarian-style votes presided over by the sinister Court’s Chairman with hardly any deliberation. Moreover, it is possible that some rulings border on prevarication by scandalously contradicting previous repeated rulings of the Court itself.
The agreement between the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Catalan separatist party Junts to approve a patently unconstitutional Amnesty Law will grant the seditious of the 2017 Coup d’Etat attempt in Catalonia the unique privilege of retroactive disappearance of their serious crime and will do so simply because an individual who believes himself above the law, Mr. Sanchez, so wishes. Despite this, nobody doubts the amnesty will be endorsed by a Constitutional Court that has already decided its vote in advance. Has the chairman of this High Court participated in the preparation of the law negotiated between the government and a fugitive from justice? But what kind of a joke is this?
In the political order, the agreement is extremely serious: as the separatists intended, the amnesty discredits and humiliates Spain before the EU and delegitimizes the Supreme Court and the King, who intervened decisively in the 2017 events. At the same time, it assumes the falsehood that separatism represents the totality of Catalan society and endorses the separatist narrative with its melancholic secular victimhood.
The media take for granted that all this has been an imposition of Junts without understanding that Mr. Sanchez wholly subscribes the undermining of the judiciary and the monarchy, institutions that are bothersome to him, as they prevent him from exercising the unrestricted power to which he aspires. Just as it was former Socialist PM Zapatero who encouraged former Catalan premier Artur Mas to be bolder with the pro-independence 2014 Statute of Catalonia, Sánchez has not accepted this agreement reluctantly, but is delighted with its content, for he is not only an opportunist, but a radical vengeful with a subversive agenda and an extreme left ideology.
As if all this were not serious enough, PSOE and Junts agree that the political power will be the one to audit, control and persecute judges who do not submit to the new regime, exactly as in the Communist and Bolivarian systems so dear to Sanchez and Zapatero. This frontal attack on the separation of powers has been immediately and unanimously responded by the judiciary: all judges’ associations have denounced the unacceptable perversion of an agreement that seeks to destroy the cornerstone of the rule of law.
In short, we are facing a self-coup attempt precursor of an accelerated dissolution of the current order that aims to destabilize the system and annul any institutional resistance. However, this real betrayal is not only the work of an individual, but also of the party that supports him. The moderate PSOE of former Socialist PM Felipe Gonzalez, a parenthesis whose main players are today purged, expelled or lynched by their former party, is dead. Today’s PSOE is a party that has de facto returned to the subversive nature of its beginnings and whose party members, a few thousand who elect their secretary general, are much more radicalized than its voters, so that, if the PSOE is to be judged by the nature of its naive voters, it is a normal party, but if it is to be judged by the nature of its members, it is a party closer to Bolshevism rather than to Social-Democrat values. As one of former Socialist PM Zapatero’s ministers confided to me about the Socialist Party rank and file with concern, “the masses are radicalized”.
Naturally, many socialist cadres are politically moderate and a few even appear to be shocked by the situation, but this is an exercise in hypocrisy without real consequences, because in the end they keep quiet and obediently cast their votes in single file. Their loyalty to the party and to their own perks is much greater than their loyalty to Spain or to their constitutional oath. Therefore, to speak of Sanchez as something “radical” and distinct from a “moderate” PSOE is an exercise in wishful thinking that favors him, since the voter votes for the PSOE brand and not for the Sanchez brand. Having understood this point, the lack of vision of the leader of the opposition Popular Party (PP), who spent his entire campaign whitewashing the PSOE and demonizing his natural partner, right-wing Vox, is astonishing. As a reward, Sanchez did not even deign to answer him in Parliament in his failed investiture a few weeks ago, as is customary, and sent a low rank MP instead, a behavior that is unprecedented in the democracies of the EU and a new example of the absolute contempt that Sanchez feels for the institutions and his lack of respect for any limit or rule, typical of a psychopath.
Faced with such a threat to freedom, Spanish society has reacted by massively gathering in front of the PSOE headquarters despite the abusive police action which, rather than maintaining public order, seems to be aimed at dissolving the demonstration at a certain time and intimidating mostly normal and peaceful demonstrators with a disproportionate use of force.
But it is also the time of the institutions. They must all resist the coup. The General Council of the Judiciary, the Supreme Court (not to be confused with the politized Constitutional Court), all judges, prosecutors, tax inspectors, state lawyers, Civil Guard associations and a long etcetera have been joining the protests., However, the main opposition party remains behind them in its obsession with political correctness and has to stop being meek and believing that flower power will stop an unscrupulous despot who goes with the gas pedal to the metal and laughs constantly in their face. Indeed, the Popular Party (PP) seems not to understand the seriousness of the moment and, amid the self-coup attempt, organizes frivolous demonstrations with festive music and campaign rallies in which they state, as their greatest concern, that they are not in power. While some of their leaders speak of “dictatorship”, their relaxed attitudes contradict any sense of alarm. Such softness is the greatest gift they can give to Sanchez. Will they promote a joint declaration of former Prime Ministers (belonging to both sides of the aisle) Gonzalez, Aznar and Rajoy, all horrified about the self-coup attempt, and another one of the presidents of Spain’s semi-autonomous regions? Will they support a general strike? Will they boycott institutional acts?
Moreover, I hope that the PP will resist the temptation to deactivate the protests it does not lead and undermine a popular resistance that is too wide for it to handle by leading it into a dead end and waiting for it to die out on its own. Proof of the fact that the Popular Party continues unaware of the reality is the support of its Canary Islands’ regional branch to the Canary Coalition, its government partner in the islands, after the latter promised its two votes in the Spanish Parliament to the despot in exchange for thirty pieces of silver. If the opposition is incapable of risking a regional government at such a crucial moment, it is because it does not understand the seriousness of the situation, and if its leader is incapable of understanding what is going on, he should resign and make way for another one who does.
To give an aura of legitimacy to his self-coup, the tyrant will need a fake opposition that pretends that we are living a legal normality when this is no longer the case. Is that the role the PP wants to play? That is why it is key that it refuses to accept as normal what is not and stops maintaining an institutional loyalty that is only unidirectional. It is not possible to claim respect for the rules when legality is systematically violated by other party.
We can no longer pretend that the government respects the Constitution or even that there is still a Constitution defended by a Constitutional Court. We must expose the illegitimacy of this government and keep up the pressure by land, sea, and air to stop the coup before the deterioration of the situation puts our peaceful coexistence at risk, a real risk that we cannot assume under any circumstances.
Democracy is a fraud if voters are constantly lied to; equality before the law is a fraud if criminals are pardoned and amnestied because they are friends of the president; justice is a fraud if the courts obey the political power by twisting the law. The system is a fraud if, for a few, anything goes and no rules apply, while for the rest is just the opposite. This is unsustainable.
The collusion between a subversive government and an absolutely politicized Constitutional Court threatens the constitutional order as in the failed 1981 coup d’état. Spain is sliding towards tyranny before our very eyes, and we cannot allow it.