POLITICS

Voters opt for traditional parties at regional elections in Galicia, Basque Country

The Popular Party's Galician candidate secured his fourth absolute majority on Sunday, while the ‘lehendakari’ will be able to govern with the support of the Socialists

The premier of Galicia Alberto Núñez Feijóo celebrates his win at Santiago de Compostela on Sunday.
The premier of Galicia Alberto Núñez Feijóo celebrates his win at Santiago de Compostela on Sunday.Óscar Corral

In times of a pandemic, political stability. The first elections held in Spain since the coronavirus crisis began, which saw residents of the northern regions of Galicia and the Basque Country go to the polls on Sunday, transmitted a very clear message. The Galician premier Albert Núñez Feijóo, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), secured his fourth absolute majority with a crushing victory over the left, a result that no other regional leader from his party could come close to. In the Basque Country, meanwhile, the incumbent, Iñigo Urkullu, took his Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) to its best result since 1984, with around 40% of the vote.

For the two parties that are governing Spain from Madrid, however, the day was more ominous. The junior partner of the Socialist Party (PSOE) in the national coalition government, leftist Podemos, garnered a terrible result in Galicia, losing all its seats in the regional parliament. It also lost half of its representation in the Basque Country. The Socialists, meanwhile, made no gains in either region, and were even beaten by the Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG), which, along with leftist pro-Basque independence party EH Bildu, was the big winner of the night.

The slow return to a certain social normality in Spain passed its first test without any great shocks. Fears of voters staying away from the polls – as happened two months ago at the municipal elections in France, which saw abstention levels of nearly 60% – did not come to pass. Participation did fall, by seven points in the Basque Country and five points in Galicia, but the final turnout was 53% and 59%, respectively.

The day progressed normally, despite the extraordinary situation, and the results were in line with the opinion polls held in recent weeks. The Galician and Basque governments’ management of the coronavirus crisis was approved by the voters, who opted for the most traditional options at the polls: the PP and the PNV, the two parties that have almost monopolized power in both regions in the last four decades of the autonomous regional system in Spain.

During the campaign, Feijóo said that he needed a “stratospheric” victory, and the citizens backed him. The leader of the Galician PP has now equaled one of his predecessors, Manuel Fraga, with a fourth consecutive absolute majority and has broken his own electoral record, exceeding 48% of the vote and holding on to the 41 seats he has in the regional parliament.

In the Basque Country, meanwhile, the hardline approach of PP candidate Carlos Iturgaiz, which had been backed by the party’s national leader, Pablo Casado, was a failure. Thanks to his more measured campaign, Feijóo also managed to keep far-right Vox at bay, which failed to score a single seat in the Galician elections. Center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) was also left without a deputy in the regional parliament, failing to secure even 1% of the vote.

Urkullu’s win was not so resounding, but the Basque political map has always been more fragmented. The lehendakari, as the region’s premier is known, gave the PNV its biggest victory in 36 years, with the party securing 31 seats. With support from the Socialists, who saw more modest results, with just one extra seat, the two parties have 41 seats – an absolute majority in the 75-seat chamber. A repeat of the coalition they forged during the previous term (albeit without a majority that time around) is likely.

There was big news for the Basque radical left, known as the abertzale. EH Bildu picked up five seats and four percentage points, taking 27% of the vote. The two major nationalist forces in the region account for 67% of the vote. The results point to this support having been taken from Elkarrekin Podemos, the Basque branch of the left-wing group led by Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, which lost more than half its representation.

The first attempt at a coalition between the PP and Ciudadanos in the Basque Country was a disaster, with the former passing from the nine deputies it picked up in 2016 to five on Sunday for the two parties together. Vox, meanwhile, managed to pick up a seat in the Basque regional parliament for the first time thanks to a deputy for Álava, where it scored more than 3% of the vote.

In Galicia, there was a seismic shift in terms of the left. The advance of the BNG, which had already been predicted in the polls, materialized to the cost of the Galician Socialists (PSdeG). Led by 42-year-old Ana Pontón, the party has captured a large number of female voters, according to surveys, and is now the second biggest group in parliament and heads the opposition.

Coronavirus measures

The precautions taken to avoid coronavirus contagions were met without problems in the polling booths, with spaced out tables, hand gels and obligatory face masks. Fears that voting officials would refuse to turn up did not come to pass, and all of the voting stations were properly organized first thing on Sunday morning.

A Mariña in Galicia and Ordizia in the Basque Country are currently subject to special measures due to coronavirus outbreaks. While there was a slight fall in participation in the areas, it did not plummet as some had feared.

The day passed without incident, and there were no problems with the 300 people across the two regions with active coronavirus infections who were prohibited from casting their ballot. The measure proved to be highly controversial among constitutional experts but was backed by the electoral commission.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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