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LOCAL AND REGIONAL ELECTIONS 2015

PP losses at municipal, regional polls mark a swing to the left in Spain

The party will be forced to pact with Ciudadanos if it is to hold onto power in the regions

Emerging parties likely to secure historic victories in Barcelona and Madrid mayoral races

Ahora Madrid candidate Manuel Carmena thanks her supporters on Sunday night.
Ahora Madrid candidate Manuel Carmena thanks her supporters on Sunday night. Getty Images

The huge amount of local power that the conservative Popular Party (PP) won at the previous elections was seriously eroded at Sunday’s regional and municipal elections, in which 13 regions, the exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla and a total of 8,119 local councils were up for grabs.

The PP, which has been in central government since 2011, lost its regional majorities thanks to Sunday’s vote (four full majorities, and a further three were it governed in a minority), but the party is keen to point out that it is still the most-voted force in Spain, garnering 27% of the polls.

Podemos has managed to take away the PSOE’s ability to take advantage of the PP’s decline

The PP’s ability to govern in three regions will now depend on reaching pacts with emerging center-right group Ciudadanos. What’s more, Ahora Madrid candidate Manuela Carmena – who ran in the Madrid mayoral race with the backing of anti-austerity group Podemos – and Ada Colau – a former anti-eviction activist-turned politician – are likely to be confirmed as mayors of the Spanish and Catalan capital cities, respectively. Pacts between left-wing parties such as Podemos and the Socialist Party (PSOE) will hold the key to future governments, which will likely see the PP kept out of power.

The PP is well aware that it will no longer be able to hold on to the power it achieved in the 2011 elections, which saw it win 11 regions and 3,771 municipal councils from a total of 8,119 (47%). That result was mostly thanks to the electorate’s anger at the PSOE for its tardy reaction to the economic crisis. This time around, however, the political map has changed completely, with emerging groups such as Podemos and Ciudadanos offering what voters have seen as a genuine alternative to the PP-PSOE two-party system, in place since the 1980s when Spain returned to democracy.

Esperanza Aguirre of the PP won more votes in Madrid but not enough to prevent a likely deal between the Socialists and Ahora Madrid.
Esperanza Aguirre of the PP won more votes in Madrid but not enough to prevent a likely deal between the Socialists and Ahora Madrid. Getty Images

Four years ago the PP was 10 points ahead of the PSOE in terms of total votes, but Sunday saw that advantage down to just two points. That takes the country back to the previous decade, when there was barely any difference between the major parties. The difference in 2015, of course, is that the share of votes for both has also been reduced.

In the 2011 elections the PP and the PSOE accounted for 65% of the vote. That figure has now fallen to 52%. The PP has lost 2.5 million votes, while the PSOE’s support has fallen by 700,000. Each of the main parties is seen as the alternative to the other – the emerging parties, meanwhile, called on voters to throw both out of power. Podemos and Ciudadanos have managed to upset the two-party system, even though they still lag way behind in terms of the percentage of the vote. Podemos did not present candidates using the party name so it is hard to pin down a figure, but Ciudadanos managed to establish itself as the third party, with 7% of the votes.

Podemos has managed to take away the PSOE’s ability to take advantage of the decline of the PP and has left the Socialists in a position where they depend on other groups to govern – only in the Asturias region did they emerge victorious. In Madrid, meanwhile, Manuela Carmena, the candidate for Ahora Madrid (the local party presented by Podemos, among other leftist groups), secured 20 seats compared to 21 for Esperanza Aguirre (PP), who fell short of a majority. An Ahora Madrid pact with the PSOE will see Carmena sworn in as mayor.

The PP has admitted that it will be “incredibly difficult” to govern in Madrid and has also applied this interpretation to other regional capitals and large cities. When Carmena made a victorious speech in Madrid late Sunday night she promised to deliver “change” in the capital.

The PP, then, is preparing to lose its majorities in Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Valencia and Madrid, as well as three other regional governments, where it rules in minority, in Aragón, Extremadura and the Balearics. In Castilla y León, La Rioja and Murcia it will have to negotiate with Ciudadanos to stay in power.

Podemos and Ciudadanos have managed to upset the two-party system, even though they still lag way behind in terms of the percentage of the vote

In the Canaries and Navarre, the PP has been relegated to irrelevancy, thanks to pacts between a number of parties, while in Asturias the PSOE’s Javier Fernández will stay in power.

The problem that now faces the PP when it comes to reaching pacts with Ciudadanos is the fact that candidates from the former freely attacked those from the latter during the campaign, criticizing their “ambiguous ideology” and calling them a “second-rate PSOE.”Ciudadanos, for its part, has said it will not negotiate deals with the PP unless it agrees to introduce party primaries, which the latter so far refuses to do.

Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD) and United Left (IU), meanwhile, were relegated to complete irrelevance in last night’s polls, having lost out entirely to the emerging political players.

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