Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Rajoy's Andalucian Hangover

They say the champagne was ready to be opened in celebration on Sunday at the headquarters of the Partido Popular. Such was the confidence that they would win Andalucia's regional government with an overall majority. That's what the opinion polls prior to the final week of the campaign had all indicated, and it is said that the private polls in the last few days before voting also carried the same message. This was going to be the jewel in the crown following the conquering of power at national level, Spain's biggest regional government and the last remaining bastion under majority PSOE control. Not only that, but the popular mandate to be gained in Andalucia was going to be used as vindication for the agressive policies of the government - proof that the Spanish understood the need for tough measures.

But it didn't work out. Sure, the PP emerged as the largest party in terms of votes, something they had never achieved before in Andalucia. Barring dramatic events, it's not enough. They are 5 seats short of a governing majority and the PSOE can govern again if they obtain the blessing of Izquierda Unida (IU), who doubled their representation in the Andalucian parliament. When a similar situation occurred in Madrid in 2003, 2 of the PSOE deputies were 'persuaded' not to support their party in the crucial vote but in this case such a solution would be a bit more challenging. Despite the attempts by the PP to spin the result as victory their faces betrayed them and the party at their headquarters never got going. They entered the week of a general strike and what promises to be an extremely tough budget without the trophy they had hoped for.

For once the abstention didn't come from the voters on the left. At least not all of it. The PP lost around 400,000 votes in Andalucia compared to the general election, whilst the PSOE made a timid recovery from November's disaster and some of their former disillusioned supporters turned further to the left and opted for Izquierda Unida. The regional president, José Antonio Griñan, has seen his decision to give Andalucian voters a taste of the PP in office vindicated. Had the election coincided with the general election Griñan would almost certainly have been booted out. Now the question is what sort of agreement Griñan can make with Izquierda Unida. 

IU have already made it clear that they favour keeping the PP out of power. It's very unlikely that there will be a repeat of the situation that occurred in Extremadura last year where relations between the PSOE and the local IU leadership were so bad that the latter permitted the PP to take office. Such a situation is unthinkable now, with a PP national government implementing aggressive right-wing policies. Even so, IU should play hardball over their support, it can't be a case of business as usual. Andalucia has some possibility of demonstrating that alternatives exist to destructive slash and burn economics, and IU should not sell their support cheaply. The option of letting the PSOE govern in minority seeking approval for their measures shouldn't be discarded. 

The Andalucian result has had an important psychological impact. The PP had behaved in recent weeks with incredible arrogance, very much as if they were the "dueños del cortijo". Even though their victory in November was as much a result of rejection of the previous government rather than support for full blooded right-wing policies, the government has behaved as if they have popular support for everything they want to do. Just as they did when Aznar got his majority in 2000. Now things don't look quite so simple, and the honeymoon is over for Rajoy. With Andalucia, and possibly Asturias, in opposition the political panorama changes. 

The result in Asturias has been overshadowed by that of Andalucia, but it is also interesting. The PSOE emerged as the largest party, with the right-wing vote split between the PP and FAC, the formation of the renegade Cascos. The PP came third in the region whilst the decision by Cascos to call another election has not done him much good. Today's count of the emigrant vote has also changed the outcome with the PSOE gaining an extra seat at the expense of FAC. This leaves the PSOE combined with IU on level terms with FAC and the PP. The casting vote could lie with the solitary representative of UPyD who have previously stated they would support the party with the most votes in such a situation. Their principles, such as they are, may yet be put to the test in Asturias.

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