29th Mar 2020

Crucial year for Spanish politics starts on Sunday

  • Rajoy says the Spanish economy is recovering (Photo: Partido Popular Castilla y León)

The Spanish political scene is set to get a revamp this year with four election dates and two new political parties expected to make it big at the polls.

The first vote will take place this Sunday (22 March) for the regional election in Andalusia. The outcome could give an idea of how other local, regional and finally the general election at the end of the year will go.

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  • Seville - capital of the autonomous region of Andalucia (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

The focus at each election will be how the governing centre-right Partido Popular (PP) and the opposition socialist party (PSOE) will fare.

Despite Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s statements that the Spanish economy is recovering, Spaniards remain unhappy about the high unemployment, the spending cuts in healthcare and education, and the instances of corruption in Spanish politics.

Election forecasts seem to suggest that the two-party system of conservatives and socialists – dominated for the last 30 years – is coming to an end.

First coalition since Franco

The most recent poll, by Metroscopia, estimates that left-wing Podemos – meaning ‘we can’ and founded early in 2014 - would win the general election with 22.5 percent.

The Socialists would come in second with 20.4 percent, the centre-right PP would get 18.6 percent closely followed by Ciudadanos, the other newcomer, with 18.4 percent.

Such a result would force parties to make a coalition government in Madrid for the first time since the Franco dictatorship, which ended in 1975.

Spain’s autonomous regions, however, do have experience in coalition governments and Andalusia is one of them.

The socialist party has been a stronghold in Andalusia since 1982, but has for the past three years shared power with United Left (IU) – a left-wing political coalition. Andalusia is the second largest region in Spain and represents 18 percent of the Spanish population. It also holds one of EU’s highest regional unemployment rates at 34.6 percent.

On Sunday, the socialists are expected to win again but with the smallest victory ever. And as political parties across the spectrum are avoiding talking about possible coalition partners in order not to jeopardise votes at the general election later in the year, PSOE is set to govern Andalusia with a minority government.

First test for new parties

Sunday will also be Podemos’ and Ciudadanos’ first national test. Together they are set to take around a quarter of the votes in Andalusia.

Established a year ago, anti-austerity party Podemos has had a remarkable rise in popularity luring voters from the socialist party and other smaller left-wing parties.

Ciudadanos – or Ciutadans - is a decade-old party set up in Catalonia, and filling a gap that many Catalan-Spaniards felt the centre-right PP had left in Catalonia. The centre-right party went national last year with Albert Rivera at the helm and is actively going after PP voters unhappy with Rajoy’s government.

Apart from labelling themselves as the fresh alternative to the ‘corrupt establishment’, both Podemos and Ciudadanos are being careful not to position themselves too exactly in order to attract as many voters as possible.

The rapid loss of voters is leaving established parties PP and PSOE worried - particularly after Syriza, a radical left-wing party, got into power in Greece in January.

The Socialists have chosen a new and young leader while Prime Minister Rajoy has introduced tax breaks to encourage long-term hiring. Around a quarter of Spain’s workforce is unemployed.

Four elections

On 24 May, elections will take place in around 8000 municipals in Spain and in 13 of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities. Catalonia will hold its own regional election on 27 September and the Spanish general election will take place in December at the latest.

The recent years of economic hardship and many corruption cases have given rise to an angry and unpredictable electorate. Some 90 percent of the population believe that corruption is “very extensive in national politics”, according to a poll by Metroscopia, and 87 percent think that political parties only act in their own interest.

On top of that comes the fact that Ciudadanos and Podemos – never previously in government – have the advantage of having a clean slate.

The May election in particular will indicate how the new parties will perform and if they have enough impetus to put a sizable dent in Spain’s political establishment.

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