The "historic" electoral victory of the Spanish right in the southern region of Andalusia has weakened Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez a year and a half before national elections that could see the Conservatives return to power.
The Popular Party (PP) won an outright victory on Sunday in key regional elections in this historic former Socialist stronghold, winning an absolute majority in the Andalusian parliament with 58 seats out of 109.
In contrast, with only 30 regional deputies, the Socialist Party (PSOE) achieved the worst score in its history in this southern region which it governed from 1982 to 2018, before being ousted from power by a coalition between the PP and the centrist Ciudadanos.
In this highly decentralised country, where the regions have considerable powers, the outcome of regional elections with their possible national implications is always closely monitored.
This is the third consecutive setback inflicted by the right on the Spanish left, following one in Madrid in May 2021 and another in Castile and Leon in February. It is a real blow for Sánchez, even if his supporters have appealed "not to extrapolate" this result to the national level.
'Change of cycle'
"No one can deny that such an abysmal difference between the PP and the PSOE in two of the three most populous regions (Madrid and Andalusia) is more than just a stumble," wrote Spain's leading daily, El Pais, on Monday morning, calling the PP's victory "historic" on its front page.
"It may be a symptom of a change in the political cycle" at national level, added the centre-left newspaper. The sentiment was echoed by the conservative daily ABC.
For Pablo Simon, professor of political science at Carlos III University in Madrid, this new "cycle" in which "the right is stronger" had "already begun" before the Andalusian election, with the PP's landslide victory in the Madrid region a year ago.
It could ultimately lead to an electoral victory for the conservatives in legislative elections scheduled for the end of 2023. "We could see the PP come out on top" in this election, the analyst believes.
The left is facing "a basic trend", argues Cristina Monge, political scientist at the University of Zaragoza. "The government is out of breath after four very difficult years," marked by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, which has accelerated the jump in inflation, she says.
However, the researcher refuses to "risk drawing a parallel" between Andalusia and Spain as a whole "because there is still a lot of time", according to her, before the next elections.
The Vox factor
In power from 2011 to 2018 under Mariano Rajoy, the PP was ousted by a motion of censure tabled in parliament by Sánchez following the conviction of the party for corruption in a mega-trial.
This was followed by a period in the wilderness and the worst results in its history in the 2019 parliamentary elections, won by the Socialists.
The conservative party has since returned to the battlefield and in early April appointed the moderate Alberto Núñez Feijóo to replace the highly contested Pablo Casado. And it wants to see this victory in Andalusia as a key step towards regaining power at national level.
"Yesterday, the Popular Party took a decisive step to get Pedro Sánchez out of the Moncloa Palace," said Elias Bendodo, a member of the party's leadership.
But although the PP won an absolute majority in Andalusia on Sunday, so avoiding having to govern in coalition with the far-right Vox as it had to do recently in Castile and Leon, such a result would be out of reach at national level.
A right-wing majority in which "the PP would not depend on Vox" is "impossible", says Pablo Simon, because of the "fragmentation" of the national parliament, where several regionalist or pro-independence parties are represented.