Two regions in Spain have just had elections with results that look simple but are not. In Galicia, the conservative People’s Party (PP) in power in Madrid did very well, even though it is pushing painful austerity.
In the Basque Country, separatist nationalists triumphed – in polls at last unmarked by violence.
The Basque Country is one of the richest parts of Spain, and it has been demanding independence for decades.
Spain’s central government does not hold all the power, it is devolved to 17 autonomous communities, the regions.
The election victory in Galicia may ring hollow to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is from here, with many saying it was more due to voters punishing the Socialists than to the PP’s virtues.
The Partido Popular increased its absolute majority under regional leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo in the region’s parliament.
Analysts said Rajoy was waiting until after the election to request a second European emergency bailout because he was afraid that lenders’ conditions could anger voters.
With Spain in such economic and social straits, in the Basque Country, where it has never been strong, the PP lost three seats.
The moderate Basque Nationalist party (PNV) won the most: 27.
The separatist party Bildu, previously banned from running for its association with the armed group ETA, won 21 seats.
The significance of their combined success is that another of Spain’s richest regions, Catalonia, is to hold an election next month, with separatist feelings running as high as ever there.
Many Catalans are enthusiastic about the prospect of a later referendum on secession from Spain.
The ruling Convergence and Union (CiU) party is seen as likely to win an absolute majority in the elections.
This would add to momentum towards independence.
It would also add a further challenge to Mariano Rajoy’s calls for unity in the face of the national debt crisis.
The elections in the Basque Country and Galicia reflect the political turbulence that Spain and its regions are going through. We spoke to Josep Ramoneda, an analyst with El Pais newspaper, for his insight.
Vicenç Batalla, euronews:
“Predictions proved correct: Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) has reconfirmed its absolute majority in Galicia, and the Basque nationalists won a record score. Are we reading results from two different countries?”
Josep Ramoneda, El País:
“Yes, clearly, these are two different countries, in which those who nearly always win have won again. For as long as Spain has had democracy the PP has governed in Galicia, except for two brief legislatures. And the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) has always governed in the Basque Country, except for a very short three-year legislature presided by the socialist Patxi López.
So, the usual winners won. The PP in Galicia has lost votes and yet has an improved position. The party comes out of this election reassured, and Rajoy has gained time, not so much on his own merits as through the failure of the Socialist Party which is crumbling in Galicia and following a decline in the Basque Country which began in 2010.”
“ETA’s laying down weapons meant the Abertzale nationalists could return to the polling lists, and they scored second. How will their robust presence in parliament affect the next government? Is Basque independence in progress?”
“We now have a much more accurate map of the Basque Country because this time no one was excluded from taking part. Violence no longer conditioned the elections. So, we know a bit better where we stand. It is paradoxical and even painful that the legislature which brought about the end of the violence, the Socialist government presiding in the Basque Country, in the same way as the Socialist government in Madrid brought about the end of the violence… well, these two come out of this story worse off.
In contrast, the separatist left Bildu is the most notable beneficiary of the end of the violence. However, I believe that things are going to get more complicated for Bildu now. It will have to govern, and that won’t be easy. Already in these elections we see they’ve begun to lose support in towns they’re governing.
“The moderate nationalist party PNV, led by the future president of the Basque Country who embodies quiet strength, who is very prudent and measured, distant and calculating, has made the economic crisis the priority.
“But it is true, the force for sovereignty adds up to 60% of those who voted, very high, and as things evolve in Catalonia there will be consequential copycat effects. These elections do confirm that Spain is entering a complicated and decisive period concerning its territorial and institutional structure.”
“Is the absolute majority for Rajoy in Galicia a show of approval for his spending cuts policy, in spite of street protests?”
“I do not believe it is. I think the PP would be wrong to interpret it that way. It has always governed in Galicia, and it has boosted its majority in number of seats. [The system allows it, as the first-placed party, to scoop up the votes of those who placed last.] The PP actually lost 100,000 votes in Galicia, and that’s a lot. But without opposition it can rest easy. If Rajoy gets burned by a national bailout, someone else will govern, but it will be someone from the Partido Popular.”