Monday, May 23, 2011

2011 Regional And Municipal Election Results In Spain

I looked for the El País elections results widget yesterday and couldn't find it. Here it is, along with an ominous blue look to that electoral map. I imagine in PSOE headquarters they have trouble even looking at it.

Could it have been much worse than this for Spain's ruling party? The story the opinion polls have been telling has been confirmed, and more distressingly for the PSOE it seems the announcement that Zapatero will not stand again has made little impact on the result. It's been a traumatic night for them. In only one regional election did the PSOE emerge as the party with most votes, and that by a handful in Asturias where they will struggle to govern. The only region where they look likely to remain in power (of those that voted yesterday) is Extremadura, but even here the Partido Popular (PP) got more votes and the PSOE will have to reach an agreement with Izquierda Unida to govern.

The yardstick for success or failure for both of the big national parties was Castilla-La Mancha. If the PSOE had retained power here it would have been seen as a failure for PP leader Mariano Rajoy, especially as the PP candidate was the general secretary of the party, Maria Dolores de Cospedal. In the event the PP took control by a single seat but with a voting advantage of several points. This region tells the story of the election. The outgoing president, José María Barreda, got significantly better approval ratings in the polls than his opponent, but the PP have fought these elections on national issues and these have clearly prevailed over local conditions in most areas. Barreda was one of the regional barons in the PSOE who had pushed hardest for Zapatero to make his announcement before election day; it wasn't enough.

In Madrid both regional president Esperanza Aguirre and mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón have won comfortable victories, but it's worth noting that the PP in the capital has got a lower percentage of the vote at a time when the party is achieving spectacular results elsewhere. There is now a fourth force in the regional assembly, Union Progreso y Democracia (UPyD) have achieved their best result in the city and will be represented. We will now get to see where they stand on issues like the creeping privatisation of public services or Aguirre's increasing application of segregationist policies in education. They can't have it both ways on everything, a position they've managed to maintain whilst not having elected representatives.

The odd thing in Madrid is that probably neither of the winning candidates wants to do the job they have stood for. The compulsive attention seeker Aguirre is going to be frustrated at being confined to regional affairs if the PP win power nationally in 2012. Gallardón will almost certainly leave his post to serve in a Rajoy government. We lucky Madrileños will be left with Ana Botella as mayor! Again, the local and national factors were confused in the Madrid campaign. Take a look at Aguirre's huge campaign poster from the Plaza de España if you can take it (young children and the sensitive should probably look away at this point). It calls for "change"; this from a party that has governed Madrid continuously for 16 years! Some change.
There are some very interesting results from other regions. In Cataluña the conservative nationalists of Convergència i Unió are now firmly in the driving seat and even seem to have displaced the PSOE's Catalan wing from the town hall in Barcelona. They now combine control of the regional government with that of the Catalan capital. A significant change, coupled with another terrible result for nationalist rivals Esquerra Republicana who just a few years ago seemed to be on the point of challenging CiU for the nationalist vote. It's worth noting, as a warning for the future, that the PP ran a nasty and repulsively racist campaign in Cataluña. No other description fits.

Elsewhere, there was another resounding victory in Valencia for a PP list packed with candidates facing corruption charges, including of course the regional president Francisco Camps. No surprise there for those of us who take it for granted now that corruption doesn't erode the PP vote, but in fact something has changed. Compared with 2007 the PP has lost support in percentage terms in Valencia even as the PSOE vote has slumped. Not a huge change but still happening at a moment when their support elsewhere is hitting levels not seen in years. Valencia more than anywhere else exemplifies the adoption of Berlusconi type politics in Spain, because of the insistence from the corrupt that the ballot box will absolve them.

In the Basque Country there is another fascinating situation. The political force which has the largest municipal representation in the region after the elections is the coalition Bildu, which the government and the PP tried to illegalise for alleged links with ETA. The right-wing nationalists of the PNV are the party with the most votes but Bildu has taken around 25%. It's an ominous result for the regional PSOE led government which relies on PP support to govern, and a reminder that these parties only achieved power in the first place in the Basque Country because previous illegalisations disenfranchised part of the nationalist vote. Will a PP led national government attempt again to remove the second largest Basque political formation?

Then there is Asturias. The PSOE finished the night just a few tens of votes ahead of the new party led by the former PP secretary general Francisco Álvarez Cascos. Anyone who imagines that this party is just a personal vehicle for Cascos would be absolutely right, the initials of the formation are FAC. It's a depressing result, because FAC stands for the most obsolete, cacique style of politics that you can imagine represented by a political dinosaur. But Cascos is now there as the kingmaker to decide whether PSOE or PP will govern alongside his party.

Although the night looks like a huge victory for the PP, it's worth noting that the percentages of vote obtained would not give them a majority in a general election. The difference on the night is caused by a slump in support for the PSOE. Some of those votes have gone to the PP, some to UPyD and some to Izquierda Unida who have experienced a small increase in support. But many of these votes have disappeared into abstention and the PSOE is failing to mobilise much of their core vote. This situation goes back a year, to the point when Zapatero did his great turnaround on the economy. With the PP pressing for early national elections the PSOE currently doesn't have a candidate. The current favourite, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, doesn't emerge well from these elections. Carme Chacón, at the moment his only known rival, has kept a lower profile but could be damaged by the defeat in her Catalan base. We will know very soon who intends to stand as Zapatero's replacement, that campaign was on hold until today.

Some observers have also tried to present the election as a failure for the protestors camped in Madrid's Puerta del Sol and many other cities around Spain. With so many voters sticking to the traditional and in many ways discredited parties it's likely to be disappointing for some. At the same time it was never very likely that a campaign that was virtually unknown just over a week ago was going to have a significant effect on the electoral outcome. It seems like a good moment to correct some misconceptions too. Democracia Real Ya, and the other protest platforms, are not an electoral movement. Just because the Junta Electoral decided last week they were doesn't affect that reality, and the campaign continues. 

This campaign may well have more to deal with soon, there is an expectation that many regional governments have been holding back on making severe cutbacks until after election day. Likewise, I listened to a commentator last night on Spanish TV attributing high abstention to the campaign. This is nonsense, the protesters have continually called for people to go and vote. On the other hand, there has been an unusually large number of blank votes cast and this could be partly due to the protests, people who want someone to vote for but don't find a party that represents them.


Coco said...

I don´t understand why Galicia shows no results - apparently the PP triumphed there as well.

Can´t wait to find out what it all means.

Graeme said...

Hit 'Municipales', Galicia is one of those autonomias that chooses when to hold their regional government elections - they did it back in 2009.

ejh said...

What is it with Murcia?

Graeme said...

Too much sun?

Anonymous said...

Some people vote with their heads rather than their heart.
Enisco in El Ejido got well and truly dumped - the locals voted PP as the best way of dumping him.
Our local dicator also lost his overall majority after 28 years - he was one of those responsible for the abortion of Algorrobico.
Valencins presumably like sharp suits!

Graeme said...

Well it's some good news Andrew, but it's offset by too many other cases of the opposite. In Cordoba several thousand people voted for a constructor implicated in the Malaya corruption case, and just across the border from Madrid in Seseña one of the few mayors with a record of standing up to the corrupt got replaced by the PP - who I suspect will not be so fussy.

Tumbit said...

Why on earth did the PP choose to put a poster of Felcity Kendal on the side of that building ?

ejh said...

As a rule, I don't think corruption does affect elections very much anywhere. In a way you wouldn't expect it to: where it flourishes, it's because it's tacticly accepted. Anyway, point is, there's nothing exceptional about Spain in this regard.

ejh said...

Re: Felicity Kendal, I hope she's all right, given that Mrs T's lookalike just dropped dead...

Graeme said...

Why do these things always have to happen to the lookalikes?