Spain’s southern Andalusia region will hold elections on December 2, more than three months earlier than expected. The announcement was made on Monday by Andalusian premier Susana Díaz of the Socialist Party (PSOE).
Díaz is trying to cash in on the party’s momentum following the successful no-confidence vote that removed Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party (PP) from office and made Pedro Sánchez the new prime minister of Spain.
My land does not deserve the instability we are seeing in the rest of Spain
Andalusian premier Susana Díaz
“My land does not deserve the instability we are seeing in the rest of Spain,” said Díaz on Monday. The Spanish prime minister heads a minority government with just 84 lawmakers in the 350-seat Congress, and so far has been unable to pass crucial legislation such as the 2019 budget.
The outcome of the vote in Andalusia will also serve to either encourage or dissuade PSOE leaders from calling an early general election. When Sánchez came to power in early June, he said he intended to serve out the remainder of the political term, which ends in 2020.
Andalusia has always been an early sign of things to come at the national level for the PSOE, which has governed in the southern region since the first democratic elections were held in 1982. A strong showing at these polls could mean significant support for Sánchez in a general ballot.
In order to win in Spain, you have to win in Andalusia
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera
The central government may decide to take the plunge if Díaz manages to improve on the party’s 2015 results in Andalusia – 47 seats out of 109, which forced the PSOE to seek support from center-right party Ciudadanos (nine seats) to remain in power. But if the Andalusian Socialists suffer a setback, it will send a clear message of weakness to Madrid.
The Andalusian election will also be a test for other parties in the region: for the anti-austerity Podemos, which is battling it out with the PSOE for left-wing voters; for the conservative Popular Party (PP), which has a new national leader in Pablo Casado; and for the liberal Ciudadanos, which is seeking to make new inroads in a region where voters have traditionally leaned left. In early September, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera stated that “in order to win in Spain, you need to win in Andalusia.”
The latest opinion poll showed the PSOE would win in Andalusia with 34% of the vote – one percentage point lower than in 2015 – with Ciudadanos coming in second, ahead of the PP, with less than 20% of the vote for each of them. It takes 55 lawmakers to secure an absolute majority in the Andalusian regional parliament.
Although Díaz mentioned national instability as a reason for calling early elections, the situation in Andalusia is somewhat similar. Ciudadanos has cut short its deal with the PSOE, and no other party seems willing to support Díaz’s proposal for an expansive regional budget. Business associations have warned that the uncertainty is affecting economic growth in a region with an unemployment rate of 24%, well above the national average.
Although there is no chance that the Andalusian election will coincide in time with the verdict in the so-called ERE scandal (see side box), corruption will still figure prominently on the campaign trail. The Civil Guard recently reported that close to €32,000 in public funds from the Andalusian Labor Department were used at brothels in Seville, Córdoba and Cádiz between 2004 and 2009. A further €22,554 was allegedly spent on restaurants, more than €19,000 on hotels, and smaller sums on nightclubs, gas stations and auto repair shops. Eight credit cards were used, six belonging to Fernando Villén, the former director of FAFFE (Andalusian Foundation for Training and Employment), and the other two were in the possession of his brother Manuel. The case is being handled by a court in Seville.
Corruption case in the courts
The ERE case is a sweeping corruption scandal affecting the Andalusian Socialists. There are allegations that scores of people received illicit payouts from a fund that was set up by the Socialist Party (PSOE) government in 2001 to help firms make severance payments to laid-off workers. Under investigation are ex-members of the regional government, businessmen, union officials and facilitators. The Andalusian regional government allotted some €721 million to the fund between 2001 and 2010. The Seville High Court is in charge of a case in which two former Andalusian premiers, Manuel Chaves and José Antonio Griñán, are defendants.
The head of the Andalusian PP, Juan Manuel Moreno, described the use of brothels by agency officials as “bacchanalia” and claimed that Díaz is calling early elections because “she wants to get away from the corruption that is closing in on her.”
Díaz’s approach to the campaign will be based on careful relations with national PSOE leaders, caution with regard to the ongoing court cases, and a confrontational tone on Catalonia: a few days ago, the Andalusian premier called her Catalan counterpart, Quim Torra, a “hooligan.” The campaign is already underway.
English version by Susana Urra.