Spain’s People’s Party (PP), the main right-wing opposition group, made significant gains in Sunday’s local and regional elections, revealing a poor assessment of public feeling towards the ruling left-wing coalition between the PSOE socialists and left-wing Podemos group, ahead of a general election that has now been called for 23 July.
In the local vote, the PP won 31.5% of votes compared with 28.2% for the socialists, with more than 97% of votes counted, according to results published by the Interior Ministry. This was a 1.2% decrease for PSOE on 2019, but almost a 9% increase for the PP, who also benefited from the collapse of the supposedly centrist Ciudadanos (Cs) party.
Voters cast ballots to elect mayors in 8,131 municipalities, while also electing leaders and assemblies in 12 of Spain’s 17 regions.
Before Sunday’s vote, of the 12 regions where new leaders were to be elected, 10 had been run by the socialists, either alone or in coalition. With 95% of the vote counted, only three of the 12 regions will now retain socialist dominance by very narrow margins, with the rest set to go to the PP, albeit with coalitions or informal support agreements with the far-right Vox party.
The PP dominated several regions previously won by PSOE including Valencia, Aragon and La Rioja. The socialists also suffered setbacks in the Balearic Islands, as well as in one of the most important socialist fiefdoms, the southwestern region of Extremadura. Spain’s regional governments have enormous power and budgetary discretion over education, health, housing and policing.
Leadership in the Canary Islands will be decided by pacts but the PSOE also has few chances of retaining power there.
The PP also swung important cities including Valencia and Seville from the Socialists, and achieved an absolute majority for José Luis Martínez Almeida, the mayor of Madrid.
Isabel Diaz Ayuso, current PP president for the Madrid region, also won an absolute majority.
Barcelona was the exception among big cities, with a pro-independence party winning the most votes by such a narrow margin that it will need an agreement with the Socialists to unseat the current left-wing mayor, Ada Colau. ALSO READ: Opinion: three women in Spanish politics – No.1 Ada Colau: agent of change.
The Vox party, the country’s third-largest political group in the main parliament, more than doubled their share of local councillors to 7.2%, meaning they will have significant influence on policy in cities where the PP will need their votes.
More than 35 million people were eligible to vote in the local elections. Turnout was 63.9%, slightly down on 2019 on a day of torrential rain for some parts of the country.
The stakes were high for Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, going into the elections on Sunday, whose PSOE party governs the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy in coalition with Podemos.
The final results will be important in determining whether PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo winning the July general election is a foregone conclusion.
Sánchez has been in office since 2018, and Sunday’s elections found him facing several obstacles: voter fatigue with his left-wing government, soaring inflation and falling purchasing power.
Sánchez himself had expressed confidence that voters would cast their ballots responsibly.
‘Most of our citizens will vote positively … for what is important: for public healthcare, public education and housing policies for our young people,’ he said after voting in Madrid.
Feijóo had urged people ‘to vote massively’ and ensure the next government was a strong one.
‘We have difficult years ahead of us but … the stronger the government, the stronger our democracy will be and the faster we will get out of the economic, institutional and social problems we have in our country,’ he said.
Feijóo has denounced Sánchez as not only pandering to the far left but also to the Basque and Catalan independence parties on which his minority government has relied for parliamentary support.
He had positioned Sunday’s vote as a referendum on ‘Sanchismo’, a derogatory term for Sánchez’s policies.
In his campaign closing remarks, Sánchez had focused on his government’s record in bolstering the economy, fighting drought and managing Spain’s increasingly sparse water resources.
‘Social democratic policies suit Spain a lot better than neo-liberal policies because we manage the economy a lot better,’ he said.
PP leader Feijóo has his own problems, in particular with Vox, which will now hope to become an indispensable partner for the PP. Since last year, the two parties have governed together in just one region, Castilla y Leon, which was not voting on Sunday. ALSO READ: Spain’s far-right Vox seek to make gains in 28 May local and regional election.
Aware that the key to winning the general election is conquering the centre, Feijóo has sought to moderate the PP’s line since taking over last year, while also keeping Vox at a distance.
¡GRACIAS, MADRID! pic.twitter.com/qgLW7qgCkx— José Luis Martínez-Almeida (@AlmeidaPP_) May 28, 2023