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A vote for stability

Galicia and the Basque Country vote for continuity and punish Pedro Sánchez’s intransigence

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Mariano Rajoy and Núñez Feijóo at a party rally in Galicia.

Voters in Galicia and the Basque Country on Sunday gave a renewed victory to the stability represented by the governments in both regions, while punishing the intransigence and frivolity displayed of late by leaders of the Socialist Party (PSOE).

The absolute majority obtained by the Popular Party (PP) in Galicia and the comfortable lead held by the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) in its own region both confirm the continuity of the prevailing options, rather than a reorganization of the political map by competitors unable to create working alternatives to the winning parties.

The Socialists’ defeat at the polls is placing Pedro Sánchez in an impossible situation

Alberto Núñez Feijóo is more than just the winner in Galicia: he will also provide the political leverage that the PP needs at the national level to maintain its plans in the middle of the ongoing deadlock. The Galicia elections will help interim PM Mariano Rajoy keep his investiture options open, and will also provide compensation for the party’s poor showing in the Basque Country.

The caretaker prime minister has good reasons to draw conclusions that go well beyond the outcome of a regional election, and this should be the starting point for a political analysis of the party’s next moves.

Rajoy essentially owes this breathing space to Núñez Feijóo’s good public image. The PP’s absolute majority in Galicia reinforces its previous triumph in 2012 and makes Galicia the only Spanish region to buck the trend by making a single party the predominant force.

His management experience and his reiterated election victories make Núñez Feijóo a strong leader with a say in the future of the Popular Party – although he prefers to define himself as “the present of Galicia” – and a front-runner to hypothetically replace Rajoy at the helm of the Spanish government.

PSOE Secretary General Pedro Sánchez is further eroded by the results of regional elections on Sunday.
PSOE Secretary General Pedro Sánchez is further eroded by the results of regional elections on Sunday. EFE

The stability and firmness of Galicians’ vote for the PP are in contrast with the readjustment that has taken place elsewhere on the political spectrum. The En Marea coalition solidified its presence in the regional parliament, while the Socialists continued to lose seats, reflecting the failure of a candidate who had been endorsed by PSOE Secretary General Pedro Sánchez, but who suffered from an internal party fracture.

Yet this reshuffling of seats among the PP’s three main competitors leaves no room for an alternative alliance that might herald change in the region.

In the Basque Country, there is no doubt that the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) candidate, Iñigo Urkullu, is reaping the results of a conduct that is as moderate as it is intelligent. Even though he lacks an absolute majority – and there never was one in the Basque Country – there is a clear multi-party culture in place there, and enough deal-making experience to ensure a smooth transition.

As such, forming a government should not pose a problem for a leader like Urkullu, who has already demonstrated great political flexibility in the past. A hypothetical alliance with EH Bildu is the least likely of all, because it could only be based on the pro-sovereignty issues that they share, and this would be tantamount to favoring the future expectations of the abertzale radical left. The election outcome has given the PNV enough of a comfortable lead that Urkullu should not have trouble carrying on as the lehendakari (Basque premier) with a choice of partners.

Although the Galicians and the Basques voted with their own regions in mind first and foremost, an analysis at the national level shows that the regional elections also have an impact on Spain’s main political forces. The political reshuffle in both regions confirms that Podemos and its allies have taken over some of the space previously occupied by Socialist options.

Alberto Núñez Feijóo is a front-runner to hypothetically replace Rajoy at the helm of the Spanish government

The damage to the PSOE brand seems very difficult to repair following a merciless succession of historical defeats, not just in these recent elections but also at the last two general ones. In the Basque Country, the Socialists had even been in government in the past. If nothing is done soon, this may not even represent rock bottom yet for the party.

Rather than open up new avenues for an alternative government in Spain, the Sunday elections have closed them off even further, taking the country back to square one. The Socialists’ defeat at the polls is placing Pedro Sánchez in an impossible situation, and all eyes are now turning to him to see what he will do.

Sánchez’s intransigent insistence on acting as a barrier against all possibility of a PP government is hurting his party at the polls. Not even the damage sustained by Podemos can stem the loss of Socialist votes.

The PSOE urgently needs to change tack. The party’s permanent committee, which is scheduled to meet on Monday, and the federal committee’s meeting next weekend, both have to address the situation and adopt solutions. It is up to Sánchez now to admit that his intransigence has failed, to accept his responsibility for his party’s failures, and to refrain from seeking excuses or persevering in his attempt to create a distraction through impossible political maneuvers.

English version by Susana Urra.

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