In regional elections in Andalusia on December 2, the outgoing government of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) was defeated after 40 years in power. Defeat came at the hands of a fractured yet radicalising right and high levels of abstention on the left.
These were the first elections held since the formation of a minority PSOE government in Madrid in June. That came after the right-wing People’s Party (PP) was defeated by a motion of no confidence supported by the PSOE, left coalition Unidos Podemos and nationalist parties from Catalonia and the Basque country.
During the campaign, PSOE leader Susana Diaz focused the campaign on promises to improve public health and education, and the achievements of PSOE prime minister Pedro Sánchez and his government in Madrid. All the other parties condemned the long list of PSOE corruption scandals, as well as entrenched high unemployment in Andalusia, an autonomus region on Spain's southern coast..
The worst corruption case involved the use of at least 136 million euros of regional government funds to pay fraudulent redundancy and early retirement claims for companies in receivership. The claims were paid to cronies who in most cases had never been employed by the bankrupted companies.
Adelante Andalucía (AA, Forward Andalusia), the left-wing coalition including Podemos and the United Left) also campaigned on the failure of 40 years of PSOE government to offer any solution to sky-high unemployment (hovering around 30%).
The coalition called for regional regeneration through massive public investment and increased workers’ rights, as well as a range of policies from a new sustainable economic model to animal rights and international solidarity. The program was developed through a lengthy participatory process that ended with nearly 1000 submissions from movements, NGOs and local branches.
Left unity and Andalusian themes that focused on defending the interests of the majority of Andalusians through a left-wing program were also strong features of the AA campaign.
The right and far right
Right-wing party Citizens campaigned on the corruption of the PSOE and the PP, as well as Spanish state unity and anti-communism. It condemned the minority PSOE government in Madrid as dependent on support from Unidos Podemos and Catalan and Basque independence parties.
The rise across the country of the previously insignificant Vox -- ultraright and unapologetic Francoists -- through its large meetings, widespread press coverage and effective use of social media gave them their first parliamentary representation anywhere in Spain.
Like Citizens and the PP, Vox campaigned aggressively on Spanish national unity and called for increased repression in Catalonia.
However, Vox also campaigned on an explicitly xenophobic, racist, anti-feminist and anti-LGBTIQ+ program as well as virulent anti-communist rhetoric directed against AA.
They also made inroads in rural areas, until now considered impossible to break from the established two-party system, by supporting bullfighting, hunting and fishing -- all the targets of a strong animal rights movement.
On the right, Vox won their first parliamentary representation with 12 seats (396,000 votes and 11% of the vote); Citizens won 27 seats (660,000 votes and 18.27%), up from 9 seats and 370,000 votes won in the previous Andalusian election in 2015; and the establishment PP won 26 seats (750,000 votes and 20.75%), down from 33 seats.
The total right vote was approximately 50%, 1.8 million votes.
The biggest loser was the PSOE which -- after 40 years in power and with a long-established network of clientelism throughout the region -- lost 14 seats, down from 47 (1.4 million votes and 35.5%) to 33 seats (a million votes and 28%).
AA -- the Podemos/United Left coalition with smaller left forces -- won 17 seats (584,000 votes and 16.2%), down from 20 seats (864,000 votes and 21.5%), 590,000 for Podemos and 274,000 for the United Left.
Abstention again increased at these elections, from 2,266,000 (36%) to 2.6 million (41.3%).
These results mean that the PSOE, previously a minority government supported by Citizens in order to prevent a government dependent on Podemos and the United Left, can no longer form a government without the support of both AA and Citizens.
Citizens rejected this outright on election night and, along with Vox and the PP, called for negotiations among the right to form a government. At the time of writing these look to be on the point of producing a PP-led government.
Behind the shift to the right
Whilst the rise of Vox and the collapse of the previous PSOE minority government -- the end of the 40-year post-Franco regime in Andalusia -- seem to indicate a shift to the right, a look at the historic right-wing vote and the origin and nature of the increase in the rate of abstention reveal a more complex panorama.
The PP was formed by one of Franco’s ministers in the years following the end of the Franco dictatorship as a home for the entire Spanish right, from Francoists to Christian Democrats. Until the eruption of Citizens and now Vox, the PP was the only national right-wing party.
Vox represents a far-right split from the PP, demonstrated by the fact that over the last 12 months numerous PP councillors and regional parliamentarians have left the PP and joined Vox.
For its part, Citizens has been able to appeal not only to PP voters disillusioned with ongoing corruption scandals but also to some equally disillusioned PSOE voters tired of their party’s corruption in Andalusia.
A study commissioned by the national daily El Mundo claims that the increase of 300,000 in Citizens vote was due to 100,000 voters shifting from the PSOE and 180,000 from the PP to Citizens. 180,000 voters also shifted from the PP to Vox, who also gained 60,000 from Citizens.
The study also claims that 100,000 votes for Citizens and 40,000 votes for Vox came from those who had previously abstained. The historic right-wing vote in Andalusia over the past 10 years has hovered around 1.7 million, except in the last election in 2015 when it fell to 1.43 million after years of corruption scandals and economic crisis.
The latest results, 1.8 million, indicates a return to historic levels and to a lesser extent the ability of Citizens and Vox to draw on right-wing abstention.
The corruption scandals and economic crisis associated with PP governments from 2011 to 2018 have been overcome by this fracturing of the right.
At the same time abstention on the left continues to grow.
Of those who voted PSOE in 2015, 250,000 abstained rather than vote for any other party, 100,000 voted for Citizens and another 100,000 for AA.
However, the party worst effected by abstention was AA itself. The decrease from the 864,000 combined vote for Podemos and United Left in 2015 to 584,000 was due entirely to left-wing voters staying home.
Whilst the post-election headlines were dedicated to Vox, it remains to be seen if it can appeal beyond far-right voters disappointed with the PP. Post-election surveys indicate that the two issues that most motivated the vote for Vox were firstly immigration--racism and xenophobia--and secondly nationalism as a reaction to the independence struggle in Catalonia.
However, whether Vox can increase support or not, it has already shifted the political spectrum to the right. The PSOE premier of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García-Page, has already raised the prospect of banning all independence parties.
Within Unidos Podemos -- the Podemos/United Left coalition across the Spanish state -- debate rages regarding the reasons for losing 300,000 votes and how to fight the rise of Vox. The general elections in June 2016 produced a similar result when the combined Podemos/United Left vote dropped by 1 million compared to their separate results just 6 months prior.
The two main factions within Podemos, led by general secretary Pablo Iglesias and Iñigo Errejón, use the results to argue for their different perspectives concerning the party and fighting Vox.
However, these disputes cannot hide the fact that the party is in crisis. While Andalusia is the one part of the country in which grassroots participation has been maintained, and the election campaign inspired many activists, elsewhere grassroots activists have effectively disappeared.
In much of the Spanish state, the party barely exists outside of elected representatives and paid staffers.
If this trend continues, many expect the round of local and regional elections to be held in May 2019 to produce far worse results than those in Andalusia.
As for the PSOE, before the Andalusian elections the Sánchez government in Madrid had been considering an early general election. This is now off the cards for the moment.
Julian Coppens is an activist in Podemos and Anticapitalistas in Extremadura. A more detailed version of this article will soon appear on the web site of Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal.