Monday, March 10, 2008

La Mirada Positiva Gets Another Chance

I must admit I was a bit nervous last night about the election results. Even the exit polls showing a clear victory for Zapatero didn’t completely reassure me, and I needed about 15% of the votes to be counted before I started to feel happier. This happiness comes not so much from Zapatero being the winner, the most important thing for me was simply that the Partido Popular lost. Not by as much as I would have liked, but you can’t have everything. In the end it’s been a relatively good election for the opinion pollsters, a margin between the two main parties of around 3.5% fits pretty well with many of the poll predictions during the campaign.

The general verdict of the press and many bloggers has been that Spain is now a two party state, as the vote of smaller parties was squeezed. Certainly the number of parliamentary seats ending up in the hands of the PSOE or the PP is higher than ever, but it’s important to distinguish between what can happen in national elections here, and the very different results you can get when voters elect their regional governments. The PP added around 400,000 votes to their total from 2004, but they still trail the PSOE by almost 1 million. The PP did especially well in their strongholds of Madrid and Valencia, and made limited advances in Andalucia. Apart from their central Spanish heartlands, the have consolidated their control on the Mediterranean coast south of Cataluña – La Costa del Concrete. The PSOE did well in Cataluña, despite the problems they have had there, and is now the biggest single party in the Basque Country. They retained majority control in the simultaneous regional elections held yesterday in Andalucia.

Zapatero is just seven seats short of a parliamentary majority; last time around the deficit was twelve. However, the two principal allies that guaranteed a majority in the last parliament - Izquierda Unida (IU) and Esquerra Republicana (ERC) - can no longer do so in the next. Both suffered a sharp decline in their support as the anti-PP vote went to the PSOE. The most direct route to a majority will lie in an agreement between Zapatero and the conservative Catalan nationalists of Convergencia i Unio, who got less votes than last time but still took 11 seats. It has been more or less an open secret over the last couple of years that Zapatero viewed Convergencia as a potentially more reliable ally than ERC. The problem for the PSOE is that they run the Catalan government in alliance with ERC and IU, and the price that Convergencia might put on a national agreement could be a road map which sees them back in power in Cataluña.

Alternatives exist to a PSOE-Convergencia alliance. The PSOE has relatively good relations with the Basque nationalists of the PNV, and could combine their support with that of the Galician nationalists and IU to construct an alternative, but slender, majority. This is the reality of the new Spain, and for all the talk of the two main parties being dominant the power to make or break a government still lies with the smaller parties. I imagine that Zapatero will not seek a coalition agreement; instead he will try to repeat the experience of the last four years by governing as a minority party with pacts to get support from other parties on key issues.

As for the PP, we have been denied the spectacle of seeing them trying to form alliances with parties who they have spent years denigrating. Despite the potentially entertaining nature of this, it’s just as well they didn’t emerge as the biggest party. They would have reached an (expensive) alliance with parties like Convergencia or even the PNV, who would then happily have turned a blind eye to whatever punishment the PP chose to inflict on the rest of the country. The defeat is not heavy enough to force the PP into the profound period of reform and introspection that they should have undergone four years ago. It’s still depressing to see that the party which fabricated lies on such a grand scale about the Madrid train bombings should do so well in the city where that atrocity took place. Mariano Rajoy will go, but unless Esperanza Aguirre gets very nervous (something that can’t be completely ruled out) he will be allowed to go in a dignified manner, without being pushed out of a window at the PP headquarters or dragged through the streets of Madrid behind a chariot.

It’s been a sad night for Izquierda Unida, reduced from five to two seats, and Gaspar Llamazares has already announced that he will stand down as national coordinator. Nothing further remains to be said about the workings of an electoral system that leaves IU with such poor representation despite still getting almost a million votes. Llamazares is a decent man, who broke from within the stranglehold that the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) tried to maintain over IU. The combination of years of electoral decline together with the pressure of the “useful” anti-PP vote have left IU in this position and I doubt that any other leader would have achieved a different result.

In the end the Spanish electorate resisted with some maturity the purely negative message of the PP, with xenophobia and resentment of regional nationalisms being mixed into the pot along with the most brazen manipulation of terrorism for political gain. That’s encouraging, although I can’t help worrying that 40% of the electorate seems to think that this recipe offers some kind of way forward. I suspect we will get more of the same from the PP, they don’t do self-criticism very well and the message of the dominant hard right faction will be that all they need is a more electable leader. The next few years may yet be every bit as turbulent politically as the last four have been.


pedro peralta de la higuera said...

no se que tanto festejan la derrota de los populares aca en mi orguyosa pero debastada tierra la republica oriental del uruguay tenemos quye soportar a un sosialista y es una disgrasia y ya no podemos mas asique en españa deve de ser lo mismo aunque a mi no me gustaba el rajoi ese le beia cara de sorete pero igual espero que algun dia espulsemos a los sosialistas y tengamos la patria livre y soverana como la quiso nuestro proser masimo el inmortal artigas que lucho y lucho por nuestra independensia y murio triste y solo alla en el paraguay

Katie said...

wow. no comment on the last comment, spelling errors and all. thanks for a very thorough analysis of the election results. i, too, feel relieved that the pp wasn't able to pull out a victory. but i am also frightened by the fact that they were able to get so many votes. then again, just look at my country. those guys already made it into power...

leftbanker said...

I always appreciate your astute analysis of everything having to do with Spain, from movies to politics to football (more football entries!). I was surprised at the strong showing by PP. They seem to use the same playbook as the Republicans in the USA: keep people scared shitless about terrorism and fuel anti-immigrant hostilities even though their supporters (wealthier citizens) gain more from illegals than everyone else. As far as the slide to a two party system, I don’t see how it can be healthy for a democracy to have fewer choices when it comes to political parties.

To Pedro: From what I have seen of Latin America, they could use a healthy dose of socialism more than anything.

Tom said...

I slept very soundly last night... which is more than I can say for election night 4 years ago.

Graeme said...

@ Katie

"just look at my country. those guys already made it into power..."

True, but this neocon hard right is a bit less of a novelty where you come from than it is here.

@ Leftbanker

As a Valencian you'll know as much as those of us in Madrid about life under the PP. They are tipping Camps as a possible rival to Aguirre for the PP leadership. Thanks for the kind remarks, I'll see what I can do about the football. I'm looking forward to blogging about other things than the elections again.

@ Tom

I slept really well last night too. Must have been the sleep of the just?

AntónCampos said...

As Gomaespuma used to say, imitating El Telecupón, congratulations to the winners!
I am also relieved, but shocked at how much the PP increased in places like Murcia and sad about the lack of political force of the other left-wing parties.
Also, it's funny that you got an HOYGAN (their usual spelling of "oigan") commentator.

Colin said...

Graeme. An admiring[?] view from the right, which you probably wouldn't otherwise have seen . . . . Or agree with.

Graeme said...

He plays a bit loose with the facts Colin - reading this you would think that the Church has been deprived of all its privileges, when in reality it hasn't. Nor are the autonomy statutes new, they are reforms of the existing ones. I think the suggestion that Zapatero negotiated with ETA just to annoy the Spanish right is not serious.