It has been a long election season in Spain and a very painful one for the socialist party PSOE although it has to be said that the far-left Izquierda Unida has benefitted at their expense.
It all started last May when the centre right Partido Popular swept to power in numerous town halls and regions. The general election was held at the end of November and the PP carried on their anticipated charge ousting PSOE from power and securing an overall majority. The third and last election comes this month in Andalucía and whilst the opinion polls point to yet another PP rout there is cause for optimism in left of centre ranks.
The general election was to be held this month but the outgoing PSOE premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero moved it forward to November. Traditionally Spain and Andalucía poll on the same day but the socialist administration in Sevilla decided to stick with the original date: a decision which may yet pay off.
When the PP swept to power in November I observed that voters hadn’t swung behind the centre right party: its vote rose by just 4.69 per cent. What had happened is that four million of them, or 15.11 per cent, abandoned PSOE. Some voted for the IU, some for other smaller parties, some switched to the PP but the vast majority just didn’t bother to vote at all.
The reality check came for the PP on Sunday February 19 when there were major demonstrations in 58 cities, including thousands marching through the centre of Madrid, all protesting against the government’s draconian new employment laws. Ironically the Partido Popular was holding a triumphalist congress in Sevilla ahead of the Andalucía regional government elections The PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was forced to rush on to the stage to defend his government’s changes to these laws. However the rapid disenchant with his administration is not going to go away. Spain’s two main unions, the UGT and CC.OO, have called a general strike for March 29 just days after the Andalucía elections and the day before Rajoy’s government presents its first budget which will hit workers, their families and the disadvantaged still further.
So can PSOE ride on the back of this growing public anger with its new government? The opinion polls suggest they can and they are. The problem is the PP has built up such a lead it might not be possible to close it in the days to come.
In October of last year, just ahead of the general election, the PP recorded its highest positive response with opinion pollsters since the 2008 Andalucía elections with the support of 49.4 per cent of voters. In contrast PSOE was at its lowest on 34.8 per cent.
However since then the polls are moving in PSOE’s favour although they are still way behind. The February sounding puts the PP on 45.2 per cent (down 4.2 per cent) whilst PSOE moves to 36.9 per cent (up 2.1 per cent). If that swing continues to polling day then the result could be far closer than at first envisaged.
On the February figures it is estimated that the PP will win between 54 and 57 seats. PSOE would lose power with between 44 and 47 seats. The only other party likely to pick up any seats is the far left Izquierda Unida with 8.4 per cent of the vote giving it seven to eight seats.
Yet if voters are moving back to PSOE then the gap between the parties will close and whilst the PP might win the most seats it might not have sufficient to take power if the ruling PSOE forms a coalition with the IU.
One other slither of encouragement for PSOE comes in the valuation by voters of the party’s respective leaders. The PSOE leader and current president of Andalucía José Antonio Griñán gets a favouring level of 4.6 out of 10 from voters. In contrast the PP leader is behind on 4.5 and he also trails Pilar González of the Partido Andalucista on 4.7 and Diego Valderas of the IU on 4.6.
Much hope for a socialist revival in Europe is being pinned on Hollande in the French presidential election over the end of April and the start of May. However if PSOE, may be with the support of Izquierda Unida, can hold power in Andalucía then perhaps people will rightly say the fight back started here.
DATELINE MARCH 26 2012 - ANDALUCÍA SWINGS TO THE LEFT
The centre right Partido Popular’s election material called for change – after all Andalucía had been ruled by the socialists for 30 years. The voters agreed: except instead of swinging to the right as in the Rajoy and Arenas game plan – they moved to the far left.
Yes the PP was the largest party on 50 seats but they were swamped by the combined forces of the left on 59 with over 50 per cent of the vote.
What happened on Sunday was that the PP’s vote collapsed to 40.66 per cent (50 seats) whilst PSOE rose from 36.9 to 39.53 (47 seats). However the real victors in many ways were the far-left Izquierda Unida which won 12 seats (up six) with 11.35 per cent of the vote. Hence those dissatisfied PSOE voters instead of switching to the centre right moved to the far left. It appears that in left wing Andalucía a Partido Popular government was just too much change and it is arguable that the party of the smug Arenas has peaked and will now decline back to its natural base.
(Above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on March 23 2012 and versions have appeared in other publications).