All political forms, even non-democratic ones, rest on a principle of legitimacy, recognized in one way or another by public opinion.
In democratically constituted States, this principle of legitimacy is expressed in the acceptance of the electoral triumph of the adversary. The one who loses recognizes the legitimacy of the one who wins. After the centrifugal moment that exists in any electoral campaign worthy of the name, comes the centripetal moment of the vote, provided that the result is accepted by the loser. The acceptance of defeat is what provides legitimacy to the whole of the political system. For this reason, Donald Trump has been a threat to the best political system that has existed in history. Let’s hope he’s gone. Bolsonaro has come next.
In States that are not democratically constituted, the principle of legitimacy also intervenes as the foundation of the political system. We had the opportunity to verify this in the former Soviet Union, which seemed to be unshakable and which collapsed at breakneck speed when the population stopped recognizing the principle of legitimacy stemming from the 1917 Revolution and the victory against Nazi Germany in 1945.
We are also seeing it these days in China, where the government is having to face a crisis of legitimacy due to the way in which it has dealt with the outbreak of Covid-19. A newly elected president, who seemed to have complete control of the situation, has had to start backing down in the face of the peaceful resistance of the citizenry.
The principle of legitimacy is the key to the stable functioning of the political system. In democracies, this principle is renewed periodically through elections. Of the general elections fundamentally, although also of all the others: municipal, autonomic or European.
Said renewal demands loyalty between the opponents. You can win or you can lose and you have to accept the result in both cases. If not, the political system begins to fray and stops functioning normally. Without the recognition that the legitimacy of the adversary is exactly the same as one’s own, the political system cannot operate stably.
This is what is happening in Spain. The left has never questioned the legitimacy of the right when it has won the elections. It happened with the UCD in 1977 and 1979 and it has happened with the PP in 1996, 2000 and 2011 and even 2016. It even happened in the “Tamayazo” elections for the Community of Madrid, which made it possible for Esperanza Aguirre to be president of the Community.
The right, on the contrary, since 1989, as he explained on December 5 in the article ‘It comes from the arrival of Aznar to the Presidency of the PP’, has not stopped sowing doubts about the legitimacy of the PSOE to govern. In 1989 he tried to blow up the elections by filing appeals in several provinces against the proclamation of the candidates elected by the Electoral Boards, with the aim that they had to be repeated. In 1993, denouncing a punch in the recount the same election night. In 2004, resorting to the Atocha attack to question the legitimacy of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, a vice of origin that would also extend to the 2008 election.
Since 1989 the Spanish right has not recognized the legitimacy of the PSOE as a “governing party”. Neither with Felipe González nor with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Hence, anything was worth to confront the Government, including in that all the kidnapping of the General Council of the Judiciary and the Constitutional Court.
But the non-recognition of the legitimacy of the PSOE has reached its maximum expression with the arrival of Pedro Sánchez to the Government after the motion of no confidence in 2018. The forcefulness of the rejection of the legitimacy of Pedro Sánchez has been much higher than that of the legitimacy of the two previous presidents of the Socialist Government. For the right, the motion of no confidence was illegitimate and also the victory of the PSOE in the 2019 elections, which resulted in an attempt to boycott the investiture.
In this non-recognition of the legitimacy of the Government of Pedro Sánchez, the right justifies the kidnapping of the CGPJ for more than four years and the attempt to use said kidnapping to boycott the partial renewal of the Constitutional Court.
It is impossible to predict how long a political system can operate under these conditions. But he has been playing with fire for too long. The CGPJ and the TC are expressive institutions of the principle of legitimacy. Hence the requirement of the same majority for its renewal as is necessary for the reform of the Constitution. If the right does not accept the renewal when the PSOE governs, it is the legitimacy of the political system that is put into question. It is a strategy that leads, sooner or later, to catastrophe.