The four main political parties in Spain – Popular Party (PP), Socialist Party (PSOE), Podemos and Ciudadanos – are competing today in municipal and regional elections that will put their genuine strength to the test, and could see them having to negotiate coalition agreements or trying to go it alone.
This electoral campaign has been characterized by myriad messages aimed at competing parties but few proposals for the voters. United Left (IU) and Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD), meanwhile, are fighting for their very survival at the polls throughout Spain today.
On Friday night, the national leaders of the main parties arrived at their homes utterly exhausted
On Friday night, the national leaders of the main parties arrived at their homes utterly exhausted. The last 14 days have been intense, and have seen politicians travel the length and breadth of the country in search of votes for their candidates for mayor or for regional premier. Some went as far as appearing at rallies in as many as three cities or two regions in the same day, given the importance of these polls.
It is not just the city halls or regional parliaments that are up for grabs today; these elections could see a major upset to Spain’s two-party system (PP-PSOE), which has been in place since 1982. The emerging parties – Podemos and Ciudadanos – have to demonstrate that they are more than mere hinge parties, and that they have what it takes to win power. The political forces that have suffered at the hands of these emerging parties – IU and UPyD – are well aware that they could disappear from the political map. The nationalists, meanwhile, have new competitors to worry about – competitors that could cause them a lot of political damage.
The campaign has been characterized more by messages among political leaders than proposals from the candidates. And at the center of all of those messages there is one single idea: political pacts. It’s a concept that means different things for different groups, as has been illustrated by the ongoing stalemate in the Andalusian regional government, where the investiture of Susana Díaz (PSOE) is still yet to be voted through parliament. The outcome of today’s votes will have a direct effect on whether or not new elections will be convened in the southern region.
It is not just the city halls or regional parliaments that are up for grabs today; these elections could see a major upset to Spain’s two-party system
For the PP and the PSOE, pacts will mean finding allies that will allow them to win or maintain power in city halls or regional governments, with the smallest loss of power possible. For Podemos and Ciudadanos, negotiating means selling their support at a high price, in exchange for the acceptance of their proposals. They will also be keen not to lose any political capital ahead of the general elections in Spain, due to be held later this year.
The campaign strategy of the Popular Party has been very clear: selling the improvements in the economy and warning of the risks of a return to power for the PSOE or the rise of Podemos. The PP has a lot to lose at the municipal and the regional elections, given that they have been in an unprecedented position since they swept to power all over the country at the last such polls.
As such, the prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has transmitted a (very American-style) message at all rallies: are we better or worse off than we were four years ago? He has also had an explicit warning: if the left wins power, we will lose everything we have achieved, at great cost.
The campaign strategy of the Popular Party has been very clear: selling the improvements in the economy
The PSOE, for its part, began with a message calling for change and then switched to speaking about “governing for the majority,” a clear attempt to occupy as much of the political spectrum as possible between the center and the left. Pedro Sánchez, the national leader of the PSOE, has held more meetings and rallies than any other politician, and has got out and spoken to the public, seeking the hot topics for voters and drumming up support. Sánchez has had no doubt that his adversary is the PP, and has focused most of his efforts there.
Podemos has run a campaign with two speeds. It started off strong, with a huge rally in Madrid where it presented a program with more than 200 electoral promises. But bit by bit, party leader Pablo Iglesias lost momentum as the opinion polls began to turn against the anti-austerity, anti-corruption party.
What the Podemos candidates have been careful to make clear is that they are willing to reach pacts with other leftist parties
What the Podemos candidates have been careful to make clear is that they are willing to reach pacts with other leftist parties, with the aim of throwing out the PP from power. Their good intentions, however, have run into difficulties in Andalusia, where they have not offered their support for the investiture of Susana Díaz.
Ciudadanos, meanwhile, has run a campaign that has ridden a wave of sharp rises in the opinion polls, mixing concrete proposals with daring ideas, and playing one main card: the popularity of its leader, Albert Rivera. It’s a risky strategy for the long term, but seems to be giving good results. Ciudadanos knows that it holds the key to forming local and regional governments, supporting either the PP or the PSOE, and its leader has said that it could reach an agreement with anyone, including Podemos.
But in the midst of the campaign, Rivera went too far in terms of possible pacts by imposing a strict condition aimed at the PP: “We will not pact with parties that don’t choose their candidates in primaries.”
Podemos and Ciudadanos hold the keys that could make or break mayoral and regional premier candidates, and they know that the agreements they reach could either bolster their support in the general elections or damage it. The PP and PSOE, meanwhile, are defending their hegemonic positions that, until now, have allowed them to alternate in power during more than 30 years.