Leaders, swingers and alliances after the legislative elections of May 27th

By Ricardo Angoso (for Safe Democracy)

Ricardo Angoso analyzes the results of the recent municipal and autonomous elections in Spain, concluding that the two main parties, PP and PSOE, will have to work hard to obtain the two million swing votes that will be decisive in the Presidential elections in March of 2008. The following article envisions four scenarios for Spanish politics after the technical draw.

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Ricardo Angoso is a journalist specializing in international affairs and the general coordinator of the NGO Dialogo Europeo in Madrid.

ALL OF THE VOTES HAVE BEEN COUNTED and the result is very clear in Spain: the Popular Party won the municipal elections. Yet, the PP’s voting power is confined to a series of regions: Castilla Leon, Ceuta, Galicia, La Rioja, Madrid, Melilla and Murcia. Outside these regions, the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE) dominated the votes, scoring enormous victories in conjunction with the nationalists in Andalucia, Aragon, Canarias, Castilla-La Mancha, Cataluna, Euskadi, and Extremadura.

The rest of Spain (Baleares, Cantabria and Navarra) voted in many different directions, some for their respective community leaders, and others for emerging regional parties, which will more than likely form alliances with the Socialists. The PP’s age-old hatred of what it considers to be divisive nationalism will make it difficult for the party to collaborate with these newly emerging parties in the central government.

The second conclusion to be drawn from these municipal and autonomous elections is that in Spain, voters vote very differently in general elections than in municipal and autonomous elections.

Comparing the results of a municipal election, to those of a legislative election, or of a general presidential election is a common error. Nationalist parties always obtain fewer votes in general elections than in autonomous and municipal elections. And the PP and PSOE generally gain their best results in general elections, although the PP is never able to obtain the absolute majority.

And so in the upcoming elections of 2008, both parties are going to need to work hard to win over the center: the political space where two to three million votes could turn the tide of any election in Spain. Right now, paradoxically, the Socialists have an advantage over winning these center votes.

As a third conclusion, we must pay attention to the element of abstention: a phenomenon that has traditionally affected the Left more than the Right in Europe. With electoral participation lower than 70 percent (in this case the turnout was about 63 percent), the Spanish Left will find it difficult to maintain control of the legislature and slow the rise of the Right.

Historically, low voter turnout benefited the PP and was detrimental to the Left. Only with a widespread mobilization effort and strong candidates who know how to frame their policies can the PSOE succeed in winning enough votes to remain in power. The recent case of the Canary Islands is a perfect example of this need.

Yet, the Socialists seem to be headed for failure, having exhausted the policy projects started by Zapatero in 2003. Unpopular candidates with substance-less policy proposals and no idea how to market themselves will have little possibility of success.

As a fourth conclusion, the result of these elections is a technical draw. For a country like Spain, with more than thirty million voters, the current difference between the two parties is 16,000 votes. This is a minimal difference, and will more than likely divide Congress straight down the middle.

In this scenario, therefore, the PP and PSOE will have to look to forge coalitions with other political actors. And for the PP this may be easier said than done. For many nationalist parties, compacting with the Right is a betrayal of their principles, which many will never submit to.

Likewise, the days of a two pronged left that united to defeat Spanish communism are over. The United Left (IU) will never again be a real alternative, but merely a gradual force with leanings towards the center and irresolvable internal problems. Quite simply, the IU does not figure into the design of a two party system.

Personally I consider Mariano Rajoy to be a boring and uncharismatic leader. He can never hope to have the same electoral pull as Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon.

Gallardon has 875,571 votes on his side, including votes from the traditionally center left electorate. Take these votes out of the number obtained by the PP (7,906,565) and the result is 7,030,994.

Without counting the miserable results of Miguel Sebastian (486,826), the PSOE controls 7,261,175 votes, excluding Madrid. With more votes than the PP, it will win the upcoming general elections. The analysis of the secretary of the organization of the PSOE, Jose Blanco, on the night of the elections was certain: the elections were lost in Madrid.

Gallardon has converted himself into a national leader, with great expectations above and beyond Aguirre. If Rajoy is defeated in the next elections, it will open up the doors for this ambitious leader. Let’s all pay attention to politics over these next few months: it’s going to be a wild ride.

La Fundaci