Spain: Victory, Yet Not a Surge

Juan Rodríguez Teruel

8 mins - 29 de Mayo de 2023, 07:00

The Popular Party has won the municipal elections in Spain, and in several key autonomous communities. But, as we have been learning for the past ten years, in this new era of Spanish politics, victories, and defeats need nuances and perspective, especially when we observe the results as if we were in a circus with several rings with simultaneous shows and in which the applause of one tier does not make much sense regarding the one in front of it.

Alberto Núñez Feijóo considered these elections as a first step towards the Moncloa, while at the same time facing a challenge for his survival against his adversary in Madrid. If the alternations of government in the Valencian Community, Aragon, and the Balearic Islands, among others, are confirmed, he will have more than achieved the latter. On the other hand, this will not necessarily guarantee the former. In the same way, Pedro Sánchez needed to retain the main territories that have supported him during this legislature in order to give credibility to his survival instinct. He will probably not avoid important defeats such as those mentioned above but also some more promising signs for the personal contest that awaits him. Does it sound too paradoxical?

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In the general panorama resulting from this 28M: victory without a wave for the opposition. To begin with, provisional data point to a turnout in line with the last three municipal elections. This seems to consolidate a new turnout pattern in the high band of this type of elections since 2007. This is an indication that should warn us against the idea of major shifts or movements in the electorate because the movements have been basically within each bloc.

This is clear if we look at what has been the basis of PP’s victory: an almost complete absorption of Ciudadanos’ space, which will bring it up to seven million voters. This is a level of support that will allow it to govern city councils and probably several autonomous executives. But it is far from the results it had until 2011, when it occupied all the space of the right. The advance of PP presents its first nuances: it wins without sweeping electorally. This stands as a perhaps capricious nuance, considering the accumulation of institutional power that it will achieve, but very necessary to take into account if we want to extract indications from it for the immediate future.

The PP victory only makes sense thanks to the entry of Vox. Abascal obtains a very good result, which becomes more significant due to its key role in the governance of autonomous regions and communities. It is not so clear that his institutional expansion indicates in the same way an electoral expansion. It is necessary to take into account here the ‘lag effect’ experienced by Vox’s municipal and autonomous progression over the last three years. Its results had been reflecting the social size that Vox had in 2019, when it had not yet achieved the great leap of November of that year in the general elections. Now that representation has been upgraded, definitely displacing citizens and becoming the third party in Spain. Has it reached its ceiling or is it still in the process of expanding and growth? It will depend on how it now uses its position as an essential piece for the right-wing majorities that may be built in the coming weeks. This is the second nuance of PP’s victory tonight.

All this leaves a clear message that Feijóo will have to know how to explain from now on: the PP majority is viable, as long as it goes hand in hand with Vox. That may be enough in Aragon, Balearic Islands, Andalusia, or the Valencian Community. But the results in other territories defy the direct application of this scheme to the Cortes Generales. Vox adds as much as it scares away. Feijóo’s problem with this new scenario is whether he himself will be sufficiently credible to maintain the momentum he will receive from these elections. Paradoxically, it will be Díaz Ayuso and perhaps Almeida who will be able to claim that they are capable of governing without Vox.

This will surely be a tempting scenario to which Pedro Sánchez will cling to in order to cover his main problem: in such a tight bloc scenario, even small percentages of demobilisation can make the difference between governing and returning to the opposition. Certainly, PSOE has not suffered a great loss of support. With more than six million votes, it will remain somewhat below the support achieved in 2019, in the municipal vote. In the autonomous communities, its results are uneven, but in terms of votes they are less bad than its governmental translation. The instability of PSOE’s support since it broke its traditional ground in 2011 is thus confirmed. It is true that this fluctuation has not determined, in the last elections, the support it will then have in the general elections. But it does suggest a too fragile base in the face of its real Achilles heel: the constant delegitimisation to which its multiparty alliance is subjected. The big problem, as the Socialists feared, is the decline of Podemos vote and of its various local candidacies. In the absence of definitive results, it seems that this space is going to experience a substantial drop in votes. With this, it will move away from the million and a half voters that used to gather the left to the left of PSOE. This time, even the confluences that were on the verge of provoking the feat in achieving to Spanish socialism in 2015 seem to resent it. If PP needs Vox to govern, PSOE depends even more on a constellation of groups and platforms that have not been able to coalesce at all at the municipal and regional level.

In addition, there is the bittersweet result for Pedro Sánchez in Catalonia. PSC continues to win municipal elections there again since 2007. But it does so mainly at the expense of ERC, the key party that has underpinned the government majority in Congress. Perhaps the fall of the Catalan independentists will not be dramatic if they can be balanced with the support of Junts, the reborn platform that still has Carles Puigdemont in Belgium, which does not prevent it from recovering institutional ground with moderate support, especially in Barcelona. It is funny: the independence process is only remembered by the media in Madrid. All this suggests a very complicated panorama when Sánchez has to look to his left and to the periphery to see with what support he can oppose the rising bipartisan alliance of the right.

This is the panorama left by the municipal and autonomic elections for the coming months, and which seems to insist on the scenario that so many fear: a victory of the Partido Popular, supported by a coalition of local and autonomic governments, although perhaps without the sufficient oxygen that Vox gives it today; and a PSOE in decline, but at the head of the only viable majority, formed by leftists, regionalists and populists, united only by the frontal rejection of Vox. In other words: a tie of powerlessness between those who do not hold enough and those who do not reach enough either. It is in this context, in which the rehearsal of alarmist and delegitimising speeches that in this campaign has reached a new level: to consider not only the current Government as illegitimate, a message that has been heard but perhaps it has already given its all, but now accusing it of being willing to do anything to avoid alternation. With this, perhaps where Vox does not reach, the discourse of its international referents will succeed in doing so. The last hope of Sánchez and Feijóo is that this scenario, so undesirable for many of their voters, will do the rest to give them the majority. Perhaps this time it will not be enough.
Se puede leer el artículo original en español en El País

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