Socialists glimpse surprise route back to power in Asturias

Absentee vote count changes panorama in northern region Single member from centrist UPyD holds balance of power

The Socialists gained an additional seat in the Asturias parliament Wednesday following the final vote count of absentee ballots, which could help pave the way for the party, according to its officials, to retake the region after 10 months of a conservative administration.

Following Sunday’s election, the Socialists obtained 16 seats in the 45-member assembly, falling short of the 23 needed for an absolute majority, even with the potential support of the regional United Left (IU-IX) coalition, which won five seats. Now the Socialists have 17, meaning that a hypothetical Socialist-IU coalition could gain power, as long as it gets the blessing of the solitary parliament member from the UPyD, a centrist party.

The ruling Asturias Citizens Forum (FAC), a coalition of nationalist and conservative groups organized by Premier Francisco Álvarez-Cascos, now has 12 seats (down from 13), while the Popular Party (PP) garnered 10.

Even though there was talk of a possible coalition, it appeared unlikely that the FAC and the PP would align, given that there has been bad blood between the two political forces since Álvarez-Cascos, a former PP secretary general, abandoned his party to form his new grouping.

According to Asturias legislature rules, political parties cannot vote against any candidate for regional premier, either voting in favor or choosing to abstain.

Asturias Socialist leader Javier Fernández, who has been making contacts with possible coalition partner since Sunday’s victory, said that he will ask the regional parliament members for their “confidence” to form a government. Last May, the Socialists abstained in the vote on Álvarez-Cascos as premier.

Fernández has already met with IU coalition leader Jesús Iglesias and UPyD’s Ignacio Prendes. He plans on meeting with Mercedes Fernández of the PP and Álvarez-Cascos.

For the past 10 months since the May 22 regional elections, a political impasse has kept the Asturias administration of Álvarez-Cascos from governing effectively and forced him to call early elections. After the 2011 poll his FAC coalition only had 16 deputies, while the Socialists had 15, the PP 10, and the IU four.

Both the FAC and the Socialists were waiting from the votes from Spanish resident abroad to determine who would get the last disputed position representing constituents in the western part of the region. Of the 573 absentee votes from Asturians living abroad, 290 voted Socialist.

“I believe that this final assignment of seats in Asturias opens a window that is radically different than what it was before, and, where we thought there would be a coalition of rightwing forces, this now seem improbable,” said Socialist Ramón Jáuregui, the former Cabinet chief in José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero’s government.

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