Elections in Spain


Tomorrow will see the first major elections in Europe since the onset of the global economic crisis. Up to four million voters in Spain will head to the polls to elect governments in the Basque and Galicia regions.

Spanish politics is fairly diverse, particularly at the regional level, where conservatives, social democrats, communists, and separatists all achieve representation. This election will be complicated by the economic crisis (Spain fell into recession last year), infighting within the main conservative Popular Party, corruption allegations and terrorist attacks by Basque separatists.

Since the restoration of democracy in Basque, in 1980, the Lehendakaris (President elected from parliament) has always come from the relatively moderate Basque Nationalist Party (PNV). The more radical left-wing nationalist parties include the Communist Party, Basque Nationalist Action, Democracia 3 Millone and Askatasuna, all of who have been banned by the Supreme Court due to their connections to the terrorist organisation ETA.

The PNV looks like it will lose its grip on power in Basque with voters flocking to the non-separatist Socialist Party, the regional party allied with Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party who is in government federally. The recession is playing against both the centrist PNV and the Popular Party as it appears the voters trust the centre-left Socialist Party to manage the economy. Another factor in the rising support for the Socialists is their attempt at negotiating with ETA, a critical issue in a campaign that has recently been marred by bombings.

The Basque Parliament consists of 75 members elected using the D’Hondt method of proportional representation which, with a threshold of 3%, favours larger parties. The Socialists are running neck and neck with the PNV in opinion polls but it looks unlikely either party will win an outright majority. The PNV will be hampered by the banning of other separatist parties who have in the past supporting them over anti-independence parties. Polls show that most voters would support a coalition between the Socialists and the PNV but this appears unlikely given the party’s opposing policies regarding Basque autonomy. The most likely outcome is a coalition between the Socialists and the Popular Party which could provide a majority of 40 seats, according to the latest opinion polls. This would be a remarkable result as both parties are historical foes and it would be the first time in thirty years a party firmly against Basque independence would be in power.

Galicia is the other region to go to the polls tomorrow. It looks like a relatively straightforward affair, especially compared to the mess that is Basque politics. The major issues have been the economy and corruption scandals involving the Socialists and the Popular Party. The Socialists, in a coalition with the Galician National Bloc, currently have a very slim majority of 38 seats against the Popular Party’s 37. The Popular Party is hoping that the economic crisis and rising unemployment will create a backlash against the government but recent opinion polls indicate the Socialists will increase their majority by at least one seat. A Socialist victory would reflect voter trust in the government to ride out the economic problems and jeopardise the national leadership of the Popular Party who have historically governed Galicia.

Update: With almost all the votes counted in Galicia, the Popular Party have secured a majority of 39 seats – wresting control back from the Socialist and Galician National Bloc coalition who won 24 seats and 12 seats respectively.

In Basque the Socialists made expected gains, picking up 6 news seats giving them 24 overall against the PNV’s 30. The other nationalist parties won 7 seats collectively. This means that the potential nationalist coalition will be one seat short of a majority. The Popular Party won 13 seats and a new, non-separatist party, the Progress and Democracy Union  (UPD) won 1 seat. This could see a potential non-nationalist Socialist-PP-UPD coalition for the first time in Basque history. Negotiations are expecting to begin soon and given the nature of the parties involved (social democrats, conservatives and liberals) they could be a very bumpy ride.

Interesting trivia for today – After the leftist Basque parties were banned, their supporters were told to cast a vote for  Demokrazia Hiru Milioi (D3M) even though the ballot would be void. More than a 100,000 voters did so and if you treat their votes as real votes, they would have potentially picked up 7 seats – giving the nationalist coalition a majority.

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  1. The key to Spanish elections is usually turnout. In national elections there’s a couple of million volatile left wing voters who often stay away, but when they turn out they favour the PSOE and IU to a lesser extent. In Galicia, lower turnout risks handing power to the PP in what is a poor, rural, naturally conservative part of the country (the place was a PP fiefdom under a former Franquist hardass called Manuel Fraga, the PSOE and BNG only took power on the back of a huge oil spill and the war in Iraq, which mobilised lefties). At midday, turnout is down 3%.

    In the Basque country the key is nationalist voters who are often quite apathetic and abstention-prone. It’s partly the banning of the left wing nationalists, but also it’s dissatisfaction with a PNV which has been in power for a long time and is seen as generally corrupt and shiftless.

    Most analysts in Spain say a 70% turnout would keep the PNV in power but less than that will favour the PSOE. As of midday, participation is slightly up on the last election, which tends to indicate PNV support should hold.

  2. El Pais agrees with you regarding turnout. I think a lot of analysts have been too quick to give Galicia to the Socialists. You’re right regarding the make up of the region – like I said, it’s been the Popular Party who have historically governed the province.

  3. The UPyD vote is going to be very interesting. They’re liberals and centrists mostly, but they aim to be cross-sectional and are founded on a platform of being quite explicitly *against* Basque nationalism and separatism. Many parties are vague on the “separatist-regionalist-centralist” axis in order to gain maximum votes, the UPyD goes the opposite route and takes an explicit position there whilst being vague on the conventional “left-right” axis.

    Their leader is a former PSOE member who left over their soft line on ETA, increasing disregard for civil liberties and so forth. She’d better have some damn good security at this point.

    Another possibility is a PNV-PSE coalition. PNV are still the largest party, and the socialists in other regions have shown themselves capable of negotiating and dealing with nationalist parties before… although the PSE might take a different view of this possibility than its national or Galician or Catalan brethren.

    Establishing an entirely nationalist-free coalition seems to be positively inviting a resurgence of more militant separatism, especially with the frothing anti-nationalists from the PP and UPyD holding the balance. It would reinforce the notion of Basques against Spaniards if the two ‘Spanish’ parties put their differences aside and conspired to keep the ‘Basques’ out of power. If they go that route, things could get very interesting indeed. However, becoming junior party in a coalition with a PNV that has governed for 29 years would probably be seen as pretty weak and insipid on the Socialists’ part.

    One also wonders whether the PP might actually swallow their pride and run with the PNV, (a relatively conservative party if you ignore the nationalism) if they can get good coalition conditions out of them. Something similar has happened between the PP and conservative nationalists in the Catalan Generalitat in the past, but again, things are different in violence-scarred Euskadi.

  4. “One also wonders whether the PP might actually swallow their pride and run with the PNV”

    Surely it’s more about whether the PNV would be willing to ally with, as you put it, “frothing anti-nationalists”. If the PNV were going to negotiate with a non-nationalist party the Socialists would be their preference. A poll just before the election indicated that this is what most voters would support.

    Juan Jose Ibarretxe, the leader of the PNV, has said that he is open to negotiation with “other parties” presumably he’s referring to the non-nationalist parties as discussion with the smaller nationalist parties is a given.

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