May 26, 2015

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Our take on the Spanish elections

Spain's local and regional elections on Sunday saw an end to the long-standing PP hegemony in local and regional government, with the added shocker of the victory of a grass-roots candidate in the Barcelona mayoral election. They also certified the emergence of Ciudadanos and of Podemos as challengers to the dominance of the two major national parties PP and PSOE.

We caution our readers against reading too much significance into these elections as a referendum on eurozone policies. What they reflect is dissatisfaction with the PP which has been dominant at the local level for 20 years, and with politics as usual as highlighted by the rise of new parties and in particular the strength of local grass-roots lists inspired by the 15M movement, which started 4 years ago. Austerity policies and the economic crisis have been a factor in enabling these movements, but as a campaign issue they were framed in Spanish, not European terms, and accompanied by anger over widespread corruption exposed by the crisis. Public anger over the banking rescues was directed at the politicians that enabled the speculative bubbles of the last decade, not at the European-funded rescue. 

We also caution against simple-minded extrapolation to the general elections for two reasons. The first is that local elections are strongly influenced by local issues and the identity of the candidates, and also that the smaller and newly emerging parties have lesser penetration in the smaller population centres. The second is that the the important regions of Andalusia, Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country have the prerogative of their own election calendar, so the regional elections cannot be aggregated into a national poll either. The results of the elections can be seen on the Interior Ministry website in the case of the local elections, and the pages of the respective regional governments in the case of the 13 regions which held elections simultaneously (here in decreasing order of population): Madrid, Valencia, Castilla y León, Canaries, Castilla-La Mancha, Murcia, Aragón, Balearics, Extremadura, Asturias, Navarra, Cantabria and Rioja

That said, in the local elections the PP have now lost 28% of their vote share from 4 years ago, but remains first party overall with 27%. While it lost its absolute majority in the major cities and in most regional governments, in the cities it generally still came first. In his first press conference from the PP HQ in three years, Mariano Rajoy gave a tone-deaf performance, summarised by ABC. For Rajoy, the problem was that the PP needs to communicate better. He said the PP was open to making deals with other parties to form governments, on the basis of a commitment to keep public deficits under control. Other PP leaders, especially at the regional level, are not so sanguine, reports Público. Regional leaders were disappointed by the failure to take note of the fact that the PP "brand" is rejected by the voters, and that Rajoy won't make any strategic changes or bring in new faces because there is "no time left" before the general elections to be held by the end of the year.

The PSOE, however, fails to capitalise on the PP debacle, itself losing 10% of its vote and remaining in second place overall with 25%. However, it will be able to make deals with other political parties to unseat PP mayors and regional premiers. As El Diario reports, PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez sees himself leading a progressive majority and has given instruction to seek agreements with other left forces, notably Podemos, wherever possible. As with PSOE, the Podemos leadership has set as a negotiating priority to unseat the PP wherever possible, reports El País. The question everyone is asking themselves is whether Andalusian regional leader Susana Díaz will challenge Sánchez's leadership on the basis of the PSOE's poor showing but she denied this according to Europa Press. She is focused on winning a vote of confidence in the Andalusian regional parliament, for which the deadline is barely 10 days after the elections held in March. The need to make deals in the eight Andalusian provincial capitals gives her more room for negotiating with other parties, writes El Confidencial, notably in Cádiz where a grass-roots list linked to podemos came within one seat of the PP in the local council and will need PSOE support to win the mayoralty.

Ciudadanos at 6.55% is the third party nationally in the local elections, as UPyD is all but wiped out as a centrist alternative. If the regional elections were aggregated, Ciudadanos would be 4th to Podemos, however. The reason Podemos does not figure in the local elections is that it chose not to run under its own banner but instead to support grass-roots initiatives, the most successful of which is clearly Barcelona en Comú, which managed to beat the incumbent CiU mayor.

In Madrid the grass-roots list Ahora Madrid came within 1 seat of regional PP leader Esperanza Aguirre with 32% of the vote, and is likely to win the mayoralty with PSOE support, which came a distant third with 15%. However, both Ada Colau in Barcelona and Manuela Carmena in Madrid went to pains to disassociate themselves personally from Podemos and stress the big-tent nature of the movements they led. So these successes are best read as the result of the general grass-roots movement initiated by the 15M which kicked off a week before the previous local elections 4 years ago. Ada Colau in particular became known nationally as the leader of the Platform of Mortgage Victims, PAH. The success of the grass-roots list strategy is higlighted by the fate of left party IU which insisted on retaining its own brand and got clobbered. As a result, IU has already made ouvertures towards running alongside Podemos in the general election at the end of the year reports Europa Press

The victory of Ada Colau in Barcelona could have a major impact on the Catalan independence movement. With the rise of Ciudadanos, which came third in Barcelona, the numbers just don't add up anymore for the nationalist camp. La Vanguardia reports on the reaction of the CiU leadership, with some internal voices advocating a postponement of the regional elections, which are supposed to take place on September 27 but regional Premier Artur Mas still hasn't called. Mas avoided a public debate on the issue while left nationalist ERC, which provides outside support for his government, urged him to press ahead with the independence road map, reports El Periódico.

Our other stories

Today we also have stories on the key issue holding back a deal for Greece; the latest developments from the negotiations; what will happen to Ukraine; on the future of the euro; and tax troubles for the Italian government.

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