The elephant in the room for the Spanish conservatives? The extreme right – POLITICO
MÁLAGA, Spain — Where Andalusia goes, the rest of Spain follows.
The southern region is holding elections on Sunday and the conservative People’s Party (PP), buoyed by a change in its national leadership, is well ahead in the polls. If the polls are confirmed, it will be an unprecedented victory for the party, marking the start of an election cycle that is expected to culminate in a general election next year.
« The Andalusian population has moved to the right, » said Juan Montabes, a political scientist at the University of Granada. « Since the first regional elections in Andalusia, in 1982, the electoral behavior of Andalusians predicts, to a large extent, how the rest of the country will vote. »
The PP, Spain’s main opposition party, first entered government in Andalusia in 2018, forming a right-wing coalition with Ciudadanos after finishing second to the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) in elections that year. . Four years later, the regional president, Juanma Moreno Bonilla, cemented her position by winning wide approval for her management of the region’s economy despite the turmoil of the pandemic. Andalusia created more jobs than any other region last year, bringing its chronically high unemployment rate below 20% for the first time since 2008.
The PSOE, which polls show is struggling in a distant second place under the lackluster candidacy of former Seville mayor Juan Espadas, is poised to lose in what was once its biggest stronghold.
« For the very first time, the PP is on the verge of winning an election in Andalusia, » said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autònoma University of Barcelona. “Before, when things were bad for the left, they always had Andalusia to fall back on. But this is no longer the case. »
Andalusia could therefore offer a winning start to the mandate of the new national leader of the PP, Alberto Núñez Feijóo. In April, the 60-year-old former president of Galicia took charge of the party after the dismissal of his predecessor, Pablo Casado, who had engaged in an explosive public row with the PP president of the region of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso.
Having won four consecutive majorities in his native Galicia, Núñez Feijóo has a proven electoral record and his calm, centrist image contrasts with that of an erratic and often intransigent Casado.
Politics is not a reality show
At a PP campaign rally in central Malaga, a skinny, bespectacled Núñez Feijóo took to the stage in white shirt sleeves.
« Spain has suffered in recent years from too much frivolity in its politics and there has been too little deliberation, calm and stability, » he told supporters.
« This talk may sound old-fashioned, boring and unfashionable, but I’m sorry, politics is not a fad or a reality show and shouldn’t be, » he said. « I believe that politics is about dealing with people’s problems, about defending our general well-being. »
Moments later, Moreno Bonilla echoed the party leader’s sentiments as he addressed the same supporters, pleading for « a calm, stable and peaceful society, free from conflict and confrontation ».
Spanish politics has become deeply polarized in recent years, with the emergence of new far-left and far-right parties. Meanwhile, the left-wing national coalition government of Pedro Sánchez, which has survived thanks to the support of Catalan and Basque nationalists, enrages its unionist opponents.
But in Andalusia, the left is divided, between the PSOE of Sánchez, the coalition Por Andalucía, and Adelante Andalucía, which is a breakaway party from Podemos. With the self-proclaimed liberals of Ciudadanos in freefall, the electoral landscape is relatively clear for the PP.
Still, on the far right, Vox, which stormed into the regional assembly in 2018 with 12 seats, is expected to make gains. If Moreno Bonilla fails to win a majority in the 109-seat chamber – which would force his party to more than double its current 26 seats – he will likely need his help to govern.
“The PP presents itself as moderates and for the moment it works,” said Bartomeus of the Autònoma University.
« This is the idea that Núñez Feijóo wants to pursue nationally: to run on a moderate platform and win the election – even though they may have no choice but to strike deals with Vox. »
In February, the PP won an election in the Castile and León region but failed to secure a majority, allowing Vox to become a junior coalition partner, the first time the far-right party entered in a regional government. Taking place at the end of Casado’s tenure, Núñez Feijóo was able to distance himself from this controversial deal.
But a similar situation in Andalusia, Spain’s most populous region, would undermine his attempts to occupy central ground. Vox has campaigned typically aggressively in the southern region, targeting feminism, historical memory legislation, undocumented migrants and « climate change bigotry ».
« They can forget to govern by themselves, » Vox leader Santiago Abascal said of the PP, confirming his party’s determination to enter regional government.
Moreno Bonilla has needed Vox’s support in the Andalusian parliament for the past three and a half years, albeit in the form of a confidence and supply agreement. He said after June 19 he would « try to avoid » forming a coalition with Vox, especially if the far-right party made demands that would undermine Andalusia’s regional statutes. He also floated the idea of calling a new election in the event of a stalemate. If he failed to form a government, then the left might try, although that seems like a long shot.
Some of the conservative voters who attended the PP rally in Malaga see Vox as both undesirable and inevitable.
« [Vox] would be the obvious parliamentary partner – but not necessarily in a coalition,” said Francisco Marín, an insurance broker. « But they did it in Castile and León and it’s not the end of the world. »
Pablo Linklater, a local psychologist, said the PP “should make any deal to prevent the left from governing. If they have to make a deal with Vox, so be it, at least within limits.
With municipal and regional elections, followed by legislative elections, scheduled for next year, the Andalusian result will be one to watch closely.
A majority or near majority for the PP would be a huge boost for the party as it seeks to prove itself as a moderate government-in-waiting on the national stage. But anything less could present Núñez Feijóo with his first major leadership dilemma.