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Spain: Podemos leads left gains in Andalusia poll

Podemos’s lead candidate Teresa Rodriguez.

Click for more on Podemos and politics in Spain.

By Dick Nichols, Barcelona

March 25, 2015 -- Green Left Weekly, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The March 22 regional elections in Andalusia, Spain’s most populous and second-poorest region, opened this year's critical election calendar.

This election cycle includes local government and 13 regional elections on May 24 and a September 27 poll in Catalonia that will double as an independence referendum. It will culminate in national Spanish elections in November.

The future course of politics in the Spanish state and Europe will greatly depend on the results of these contests.

The outcome of the Andalusian election confirmed the rise of one-year-old radical Podemos (“We Can”). But it also left the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) — the main opposition party nationally — as government in a region it has run without interruption since 1982. Such an unbroken run is unique in the Spanish state.

Despite a 4.1% swing against it, the PSOE’s 35.4% of the vote left it with 47 seats in the 109-seat Andalusian regional parliament, the same number it already held.

The result was a success for PSOE regional leader Susana Diaz. It is already being interpreted by national leader Pedro Sanchez as proof that the party — running third in most national opinion polls behind the anti-austerity Podemos — is on the way back.

However, Diaz was helped by the stacked local electoral system. With just 62.2% of the vote between them, the right-wing Popular Party (PP) — governing nationally — and PSOE were awarded 73% of the seats. This masked the degree of erosion of the two-party system at this poll.

Diaz called the election one year early on the pretext of “loss of trust” in her minor governing partners, the United Left (IU).

This was simply a pretext. Despite recurring tensions within the PSOE-IU administration, the PSOE’s motive was to hold on to its Andalusian bastion while this was still possible — exploiting newcomer Podemos's still incomplete organisation in the region.

Triples vote

Podemos won 14.8% of the vote and 15 seats. Although slightly below some poll predictions, it tripled its vote from last year's May European elections to become the third-largest party in the Andalusian parliament.

A good part of its success came at the expense of the IU, whose vote fell from 11.3% to 6.9% — and 12 seats to five. Some came from former PSOE voters and many people voting for the first time. Participation in the poll rose 5.2% to 63.9%.

In Cadiz, the province with the highest unemployment rate in Spain, the Podemos vote reached 18.9%.

The biggest loser was the PP of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. It was the most-voted party in the 2012 Andalusian poll with 40.7% and 50 seats. But on March 22, half a million voters deserted the party. Its vote collapsed by a third, down to 26.8% and 33 seats.

In 2012, the PP was the leading party in five of Andalusia’s eight provinces. This time it only managed to come first in one. With a system of proportional representation, the PP would have been cut to 30 seats.

The PP foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo made an honest enough assessment of his party’s debacle: “Worse, much worse, than could have been expected …There had to be budget belt-tightening, there had to be structural reforms that have touched very sensitive nerves, and as a result people don’t vote for you.”

One part of the PP vote went to the PSOE, as sections of the Andalusian business class moved to back their best guarantee of political stability in the face of the rise of Podemos. Another part was taken by newcomer Citizens, the self-styled “clean and modern party of the 21st century” posing as an alternative to the corruption-riddled party of Rajoy.

At its first tilt at Andalusia, the Catalan-based Spanish-centralist Citizens, with no Andalusian party structure to speak of, won 9.3% and nine seats.

It relegated IU to fifth position in an Andalusian parliament that now features five parties instead of three. National IU MP Alberto Garzon, the party’s lead candidate for the national Spanish elections and very active in IU’s Andalusian election campaign, described the result as “totally unsatisfactory”.

The valuable initiatives introduced by IU ministers in areas such as housing did not save it against the Podemos challenge. However, according to Garzon, “IU remains a force that is indispensable for social transformation”.

IU seems certain to be the site of debate over the value of the party’s participation in government in Andalusia. This was always supported by a large majority of its membership, but a minority pointed to the cost of association with the pro-austerity PSOE.

Podemos’s lead candidate Teresa Rodriguez said: “After elections all parties cry ‘Victory!’ Not us. We have won 15 seats in parliament, but we have not achieved our goal because tomorrow the 40 house evictions a day will continue, as will the million Andalusian unemployed and the million children living beneath the poverty line.

“Our goal is to win the political majority so as to be able to govern in favour of the people and with the people as actor in its own government. Until then we cannot cry ‘Victory!’”

The dispersion of the vote in Andalusia prefigures the likely result in the rest of this year’s Spain-wide elections.

The decay of the discredited PP-PSOE two-party system is multiplying political representation left and right. The Catalan parliament, for example, is likely to be divided among eight forces after September 27.

Shift to left

However, underneath this fragmentation lies a shift to the left. Spanish society has been angered by the huge collapse in employment, destruction of public services and seemingly unstoppable rise in poverty and inequality.

In the Andalusia elections, the vote to the left of the PSOE (Podemos and IU) almost doubled from 11.3% to 20.7%. With the PSOE included in the category “left”, that vote reached 57.2%, up from 50.8%.

At the same time, the vote for the right (PP, Citizens, Union for Progress and Democracy) has fallen from 44.1% to 39%.

The PSOE’s intention in Andalusia is to form a minority government, and put the pressure on other forces to support its proposals.

However, either the PP, Citizens or Podemos will have to come to the party for this to happen. Citizens has already made clear that it will make any support conditional on Diaz expelling former Andalusian premiers Jose Antonio Grinan and Manuel Chaves, now facing corruption charges, from the PSOE.

The PP, which in the face of its own decline has loudly proposed that parties winning a relative majority in elections automatically form government, has so far refused to say whether it will allow the PSOE to form government in Andalusia.

As for Podemos, a tweet from its Andalusia regional organisation said: “We’re going to be an opposition, the first time this has happened in Andalusia in 33 years.”

After much argy-bargy, the PSOE is almost certain to form a minority government in Andalusia — and the coming struggles in its parliament will have a great impact on Spanish national politics.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]

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From GLW issue 1047

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Podemos primaries prepare Spain’s radical party for May election

Spain’s new radical party Podemos has chosen its candidates for May’s regional elections, the majority aligned with the current leadership of Pablo Iglesias, reports Jacopo Rosatelli* 

Spain’s new radical party Podemos has selected thirteen candidates for president and thirteen lists of aspiring councillors for each of the regions in which it will go to the vote on 24 May. This is a key date because it could be the beginning of a decisive shift in policy for Spain and Europe. The primaries process was conducted online and managed with a strict and transparent system of rules, and the announcement of the winners went smoothly. The majority of candidates is aligned with leader Pablo Iglesias, but there is a significant representation of the “left minority”, associated with Izquierda anti­ca­pi­ta­li­sta (Anti-Capitalist Left). The best known of the “non-aligned” candidates is Pablo Echenique, currently MEP, vying for the presidency of the Aragón region. Of the thirteen leaders of the electoral lists, three are women.

The most important challenges at the regional level are Madrid and Valencia, two strongholds of the Partido Popular of premier Mariano Rajoy that could be heavily defeated next month. Leading Podemos in the capital will be José Manuel López, a 49 year old agronomist with a long record of social commitment: a little-known figure who will face two weighty opponents, the former Socialist minister Ángel Gabilondo and the current delegada gobierno (prefect), the conservative Cristina Cifuentes. In the region of Valencia the presidential candidate is Antonio Montiel, 57, a public administration official and local leader of Iglesias’ party.

A curious fact: in the key two electoral races Podemos will be represented by the most senior among the thirteen candidates for regional presidents announced Wednesday night but the majority of them are under 40 years of age, like most of the national leadership. Beyond the vital statistics, the primaries show that while the party of Iglesias is making protagonists of the “generation without a future”, the indignados, it does not suffer from the vacuous nuovismo of the youth. The primaries also confirm the profile of the candidate for mayor of Madrid, winner of last week’s municipal primary: the 70 year old activist and former magistrate Manuela Carmena.

On the road leading to the polls in May Podemos now faces its first, demanding test of “political maturity”, one that is creating some apprehension within the national leadership: what to do in Andalusia during the vote of investiture of President-elect, the Socialist Susana Díaz. Who cannot wait to witness a false step by her new competitors on the left. The Andalusian PSOE does not have the numbers, alone, to elect Díaz: if all other groups were to vote “no” the region, the country’s most populous, would return again to the polls. A very unlikely outcome that nobody cares to contemplate.

The Socialists – who will rule as a minority government – need Podemos and the liberals of another new party, Ciudadanos, to abstain in the election of the governor. Discussions and negotiations are under way: both Podemos and Ciudadanos have no intention to grant Díaz the green light without gaining something concrete in exchange, but they do not want to show themselves closed to dialogue either. And for the political formation of Iglesias finding the balancing point is not proving easy, as shown by certain tensions that have surfaced between the local leader Teresa Rodríguez and the leadership in Madrid.

Translation/edit by Revolting Europe

* Il Manifesto 

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