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Socialists win big in Sunday’s elections but the right takes control of Madrid

The Popular Party continues to lose support, but avoids being overtaken by Ciudadanos. Divisions in the left and the poor showing of Podemos cause losses in the capital and its region

The PP’s Madrid regional candidate Isabel Díaz Ayuso, national chief Pablo Casado and Madrid mayoral candidate José Luis Martínez-Almeida celebrate their gains on Sunday night.
The PP’s Madrid regional candidate Isabel Díaz Ayuso, national chief Pablo Casado and Madrid mayoral candidate José Luis Martínez-Almeida celebrate their gains on Sunday night.

The Spanish Socialist Party, which won the most votes at the recent April 28 general elections but fell short of a majority, secured another bitter-sweet victory at the “Super Sunday” polls yesterday. The PSOE, as the party is known, consolidated its power at the European Union, municipal and regional polls, but left-wing groups lost the jewel in the crown: Madrid City Hall, which until now had been controlled by former judge Manuela Carmena. Leftist groups also failed to beat out the right in the Madrid region. The conservative Popular Party (PP) and center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), with the support of the far-right Vox, could join forces to govern in Madrid. The divisions of the left, combined with the poor showing of anti-austerity group Podemos, were the key factors behind this failure.

The results of Sunday’s elections consolidated the hegemony of the PSOE, which was the main winner of the night. But they also improved the situation of the PP, which fared terribly at the April 28 national elections, leaving the group with the worst results in its history. The fact that it will most likely be able to govern both in the Spanish capital and the Madrid region will allow it to claim its role as the leader of the opposition in Congress, a position that Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera had been vying for.

Despite a gaffe-prone campaign, it is likely that Isabel Díaz Ayuso – personally chosen as a candidate by PP chief Pablo Casado – will become the new Madrid regional premier. Casado was euphoric last night in the wake of the news. The overall results for the PP were poor, but the party will control Madrid and should be able to save key areas such as Castilla y León and Murcia, from where he can try to rebuild the party.

“There is only one PP, and the Spanish people have decided to vote for the original,” Casado claimed, in an atmosphere that was in stark contrast to the glum funereal mood after the April 28 polls. “We are the big party in Spain. The PP will be here for decades.”

Manuela Carmena (c) concedes defeat on election night.
Manuela Carmena (c) concedes defeat on election night. GTRES

The biggest turnaround, however, was for Podemos, which suffered a much greater loss than expected. The group’s founding leader, Pablo Iglesias, will now be left exposed to criticism for the poor result. The situation will also weaken his negotiating position with acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who needs the anti-austerity group’s support to form a government. Iglesias had been vying for a coalition government, and for Podemos to have control of several ministries. This may be off the table after Sunday’s polls, but the 42 seats that the group holds in the lower house of parliament are still essential for Sánchez if he is to be voted back in as prime minister, and Iglesias could negotiate a global pact – the group’s seats are key to forming a government in a number of regions, including Aragón, the Balearic Islands and Asturias, as well as dozens of local councils.

We are the big party in Spain. The PP will be here for decades

PP leader Pablo Casado

Along with the defeat of Manuela Carmena in Madrid – who was running with the leftist party Más Madrid – another key leader from an outsider group lost out on Sunday. Ada Colau, a former campaigner turned mayor of Barcelona, lost out by a slim margin to the Catalan Republican Left (ERC). Right-wing parties took a majority in another key city, Zaragoza, while the left maintained its leadership in Valencia. The PSOE has hung on to power in the regions of Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, and the Balearic Islands, but it is unclear whether they can hang on to Aragón.

Carmena conceded defeat late last night. “We have won, but we’re not going to be able to govern,” she said, among the devastated faces of her supporters. “It is not the result that we were hoping for. But this city will continue to be progressive, and focused on solidarity.”

Carmena had run on a joint ticket with Íñigo Errejón, one of the cofounders of Podemos and once a good friend of Pablo Iglesias. With Más Madrid, Errejón had run in the Madrid regional race. His party obtained a good result – 20 seats in the regional assembly compared to the seven secured by Podemos – but it was a Pyrrhic victory, leaving the left without Madrid, and putting Errejón as the leader of the second party of the opposition in the region.

I’m calling on them to be responsible. It’s time to break the cordon sanitaire with the PSOE. We must isolate the far right

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

Sánchez, conscious of the bad results of Podemos, put renewed pressure on Ciudadanos to do deals to form a government – with 180 deputies between them in Congress, they would have a clear majority. But that still seems an unlikely outcome, given that Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera has vowed never to support Sánchez or the Socialists. Last night the acting prime minister called on the leader of the center-right group to “break the cordon sanitaire” and come closer once more to the PSOE.

“The PSOE is, by a long way, the biggest political force in the country,” Sánchez said last night. “Spaniards agree with the solutions that we are coming up with from the Spanish government. The PSOE won’t be able to govern in areas where the right is doing deals with the far right. The PP and Ciudadanos will have the responsibility for this. In Europe, the liberal and conservative parties won’t understand this. I’m calling on them to be responsible. It’s time to break the cordon sanitaire with the PSOE. We must isolate the far right,” he concluded.

The PSOE managed a result that would have been unthinkable just a year ago, when the motion of no confidence was yet to be tabled – and won – against then-PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, and the party was fourth in the opinion polls. Yesterday it won the European elections, with 32% of the vote – higher than it managed in the general election, and 12 points above the PP, which took 20%. Ciudadanos managed just 12% in the European polls, while Podemos fell to 10%, far below the 14.3% it took at the April 28 general elections.

We have won, but we’re not going to be able to govern

Acting Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena

The results of emerging far-right party Vox – which made surprise gains at the Andalusian regional elections in December and secured 24 seats in Congress in the general election – are difficult to analyze. The overall results on Sunday were mediocre, losing half of the votes in key areas compared to the April 28 polls and with little support in the European elections. But its power will continue to rise should the PP and Ciudadanos opt to do deals with the group to form governments, as was the case in Andalusia. The right cannot govern without Vox in Madrid, and the situation is repeated in a number of important municipalities, giving the far-right party unprecedented influence. Meanwhile, the nationalist and pro-independence parties have managed excellent results in the European and municipal polls, another of the trends that had already been seen at the April general elections.

The Spain that has been created by the May 26 “Super Sunday” is not dissimilar to the one seen after April 28. But the resistance of the right in Madrid changed the mood of a night that could have been historic for the left, but turned out very differently.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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