Of course, these frustrations are not unique to Spain. The confluence of the pandemic and the emergence of populism and extremism around the world, from the United States to the Philippines, has hindered responses that are based on knowledge, science and effective management. But in the case of Spain, these problems transcend the current situation.
Our political parties have become organizations that are hermetically closed to outside talent. Spaniards do not elect individual candidates, but choose a regional party list with candidates selected by the parties in a process where intrigue and relationships count more than competence. Most of our representatives arrive at positions of responsibility with no experience beyond the political. Only 36 percent of Congress members in 2018 declared that they had ever worked in the private sector.
In normal times, Spain’s political dysfunction was less obvious. But the pandemic has revealed a painful truth: Incompetence costs lives and ruins economies. This is evident in the region of Madrid; today the financial and governmental center of Spain is in dire straits.
New York and Madrid were in similar situations in June. After initially being hard-hit by the coronavirus, both cities seemed to have the pandemic under control. Since then, the region of Madrid has seen cases multiply to 772 per 100,000 inhabitants while New York has kept the situation under control with 28 infections per 100,000 inhabitants. There is no mystery here either: The difference is explained by the number of trackers, hospital support, prudent reopening of businesses, and tests.
In recent months, the president of the community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a member of the conservative Popular Party that has been ruling the region for 25 years, had promised trackers, health care reinforcements, and schoolteachers, who have arrived late or not at all. In addition to the tensions with the central government, experts’ recommendations have been subject to political opportunism, measures have been put in practice too late and, characteristic of Spain’s ruling class, blame has been spread to avoid responsibility.
Reversing mediocrity in Spanish politics will require profound reforms that must begin with education, whose benefits in fostering a new generation of leaders may not appear for years. But nothing is stopping us from beginning with more concrete measures that could slow our political decline.
It is crucial that Spain reform electoral law so that voters choose their representatives directly, rethink the territorial organization that has caused a lack of coordination among regions, and strengthen the independence of the government institutions, which are filled with politicians who offer blind loyalty to their political parties. Yet none of this will make a matter if Spanish leaders aren’t held accountable at the polls.
In the next election we should not forget those responsible for the disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
David Jiménez (@DavidJimenezTW), a journalist, is the author, most recently, of “El director.” This essay was translated by Erin Goodman from the Spanish.
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