What’s going on in Spain

By Martin Lucea. – I’m writing these lines days after the elections held in Spain on 24 May. Just to make it clear, we elected municipal councils for the whole of Spain and regional parliaments for all regions except Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia and Andalusia. Mayors are elected by the councils and regional governments by their respective parliaments.

The general results at the municipal level are:

A large drawback for the Popular Party (PP). They risk losing mayoralties in many large cities with Madrid to begin with. This will also happen in several regions. They lost 2.4 million votes, 28% of what they got in 2011.
The Socialists (PSOE) did better. Although they lost 671,000 votes (10% since 2011) they remain the largest party in the “left” so they can expect to get a large number of mayoralties and some regions that were in the hands of the PP until now.
Izquierda Unida (IU) has lost, apparently, 254,000 votes (including our Catalan allies, ICV). But united alternative left lists in which IU has taken part – sometimes in a strange fashion as I will explain later – have received 1 million votes.
Catalan nationalists have grown, but the balance is now more to the left and secessionists.
The opposite rules for Basque nationalists, where the balance has moved towards the conservatives. Galician left-wing nationalists have joined the broad alternative left coalitions and the conservatives have also receded.
A new centre right party, Ciudadanos (Citizens), has won almost 1.5 million votes, presumably from the PP and UPyD (a promising newcomer in 2011 which has vanished in four years time).
Podemos formally did not run the municipal election, although in many cases they have promoted so-called “local parties” who have had brilliant results in one case (Cádiz) and have managed to win seats in many places. 

Changes in large cities; the outcomes of broad alternative coalitions

Real qualitative changes have taken place in large cities where broad alternative coalitions of the left have run the elections.

In Barcelona, until now governed by Catalan conservative nationalists, has been won by a large coalition including greens, EuiA (IU), Podemos and social movements; but not Catalan nationalist radical left which has also reached a significant result.
In Madrid, the PP has run first but the prospects are that the Mayor will be from Ahora Madrid, another coalition similar to the one in Barcelona which arrived second. The Socialist Party will vote for them to win the mayoralty.
In Zaragoza, another broad coalition including Podemos and IU came out as the second most-voted party and most probably will have the Mayor with the support of the Socialists who ran third.
Broad coalitions of the alternative left have also won other significant cities such as Coruña and Santiago in Galicia and got very good results in others.
In Valencia Compromís, a Left-Green split from IU, has arrived second behind the PP who lost absolute majority, therefore there will be a left-wing government in Valencia.
In Sevilla and other Andalusian cities the Socialists ran second to the PP but will probably get the mayoralty because both Podemos and IU, who ran each one on its own, will support the PSOE.
In the regional elections things are not so clear cut although the PP suffered also a defeat which can be compensated by Ciudadanos in many cases. More about regional elections some lines down.

Problems within IU

In Madrid, IU split before the elections. One sector, supported by the Communist Party joined Ahora Madrid; other ran alone. The latter have not won any seat while the former sector will be in the government of Madrid. Now the leadership of IU Madrid who advocated for going alone is mad with the “traitors”.

In Asturias, a traditional stronghold of IU, the dominant line opposed convergence and they have won a reasonable result which reinforces their idea to go along with business as usual. They will align with Madrid’s leadership.
In Valencia IU has been swept out by Compromís, a split from IU leaning to the greens and nationalism. Podemos won a discrete result. The regional leadership of IU favoured convergence but weren’t able to reach it. Probably because of Compromís and old wounds.
In Andalusia the results have been reasonably good even though the convergence was not possible, due to sectarianism on the side of people from Podemos, many of them fugitives from IU or directly extreme left. Also because of a lack of daring by IU’s leadership.
In Extremadura, where IU gave way to a PP regional government refusing to bargain with the socialists, they have been swept out. Podemos’ supported lists won a discrete result.
In Galicia, where IU has been traditionally weak, a brave and smart leadership has forged a strategic alliance with left-wing nationalist sectors and have called into question the monopoly of the PP. This strategy already was fruitful in the European election. Both centre left nationalists and Podemos haven’t been able to break it.
This situation portends major problems in IU and, probably, between the CP and the more moderate sectors.

Some remarks about Podemos

Another significant feature is that while Podemos did not run the municipal elections on their own as Podemos proper, they did so in the regional ones.
Does this make any difference? It is difficult to make a general assessment but in the city of Madrid the broad alternative coalition got more than half a million votes (519,000) in the municipal election while Podemos in the regional one got only 290,000. In Zaragoza the phenomenon repeats itself although it is not so marked.
Last, but not least, the best results for Podemos and the lists they sponsored have taken place where the national leadership of Podemos is weakest. Which corresponds to where Podemos is more leftwise.


Voices both from IU/CP and Podemos, and many intermediate people, are proposing convergence towards the general election due in November (unless Rajoy decides to call an early election).
The understanding behind this is that the municipal results show, although it may be at a symbolic level, that it is possible to overthrow the PP without surrendering to the socialists. Syriza is looming! But everybody reckons that PSOE is not PASOK. Better stated, PSOE is not in PASOK’s circumstances.

What is to be done?

Problems in PP are mounting. And in PSOE they have not by any means disappeared. But the left has its own problems and they are not minor. And the national question always lies there.

The general line in the CP (not unanimous) is that we should be able to forge a broad convergence. Conservatives in IU are defending “identity” and hoping all this will be a temporary mirage and things will go back to usual (which could be if they succeed in their effort but will mean a historical opportunity washed away). Podemos’ leadership (Pablo Iglesias, Errejón, …) want IU to surrender and disband. Podemos left wing, although agrees nominally with convergence, is stuffed with IU defectors and all sorts of anti-communist leftists. It is a devilish situation. Perhaps some pushing from outside could help.
Just to finish. There have been changes in Spain, and there are opportunities which allow for great expectations. But many things must change. In the meanwhile, I’ll suggest not buying neither IU’s collapse nor Podemos triumph. The situation is extremely fluid and contradictory.
To be continued …