Spain: Sánchez counters rout in local polls with general election call

May 31, 2023
While the PSOE lost 13 seats in the 12 regional assemblies contested, Unidas Podemos, its minor partner in government, lost 33 seats. Graphic: Green Left

When left voters in the Spanish state stay at home on polling day, as they did for the May 28 municipal and regional elections, a rout of the parties regarded as left — leftwards from the social-democratic and governing Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) — is near certain.

Once the smoke of battle had cleared, the extent of the PSOE’s losses was glaring. It had lost five or six of its nine regional governments (“autonomous communities”, of which there are 17) and eleven of its 25 provincial capitals (there are 52 in all).

As a result, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez faced the prospect of fighting a resurgent right (People’s Party, PP) and far right (Vox), along with internal PSOE enemies, then limping to defeat in general elections slated for December.

It took Sánchez only 12 hours to announce his least bad available move — dissolution of the Spanish congress, with general elections at the earliest possible date, July 23.

With this decision he aimed to galvanise the PSOE ranks into action against the horror of a victory of the mainstream right PP — with its two-point program of welfare state demolition and tax relief for the rich — and the racist thugs of Vox.

Sánchez’s message to the abstaining voter was: “Do you really want these people running Spain?”


A summary of the May 28 result shows how matters reached this pass.

First, although the average participation rate fell only slightly (from 65.2% to 63.9%), it rose most in the constituencies where the right won and fell most in the constituencies where the left lost.

The biggest fall in participation was in Catalonia (at 55.5%, 9.2% down on the 2019 municipal election).

The intractable divisions among the pro-independence Catalan parties were responsible for this slump. The centre-left Republican Left of Catalonia — the minority government in the region — lost two provincial capitals (Lleida and Tarragona) to the PSOE’s Catalan franchise, the Party of Socialists of Catalonia.

Secondly, the disaster was unequally distributed across the left. While the PSOE vote only fell slightly (from 29.4% to 28.1%, losing only 13 seats in the 12 regional assemblies contested), Unidas Podemos (UP), its minor partner in government, lost 33 regional seats.

From having councillors in 37 of Spain’s 52 capital city councils, UP finished with a presence in 17.

The overall result made clear how much the PSOE’s survival in government has depended on the degree of support for UP and its regional variants (like Catalonia Together).

The PSOE vote rose in the Valencian Country (from 23.87% to 28.35%) and fell only slightly on the Balearic Islands, but Unidas Podemos lost all its seats in the former and five out of six seats in the latter, handing victory in both to the PP.

In Aragon, UP’s loss of four of its five seats contributed to the PSOE losing the regional parliament to the PP-Vox combination. In the parliament of Cantabria, the PSOE won an extra seat but the vote for the governing Cantabrian Regionalist Party halved, handing the constituency to the right.

Scarce consolation was the near disappearance of the catalanophobic Citizens, whose regional parliamentary seats all got redistributed to the PP and Vox.

A depressing aspect of the result was the end of the phase of the “councils for change”, product of the May 15, 2011 rebellion of the indignados.

Half had already been lost at the 2019 municipal poll. In this contest, Valencia, Cadiz and Barcelona, the three remaining“councils for change” that had pursued progressive policies on pollution reduction, housing and public transport, all went.

The first two fell to the PP and the last to the ostensibly independentist Together for Catalonia whose candidate, former Barcelona mayor Xavier Trias, never mentioned the word independence.

The worst feature of the result was an increase in the far-right vote, both in its Spanish chauvinist guise (Vox’s vote doubled to 7.1%) but also in some parts of rural Catalonia.

In Ripoll, hometown of some of the young men involved in the 2016 Barcelona bombing, the Islamophobic Catalan Alliance won 6 of the council’s 17 seats.

Glimmer of light

One glimmer of light was the performance of the left independence force EH Bildu in the Spanish Basque Country (Euskadi) and Navarra (Nafarroa).

It was the most voted force in the council elections in the region (more than 27%), held Nafarroa capital Iruñea (Pamplona), and became the leading force in Gasteiz (Vitoria, capital of Euskadi) for the first time.

It is now breathing down the neck of the conservative Basque Nationalist Party.

That said, only an almighty effort of remobilisation can now hold off Spain’s forces of darkness.

[Dick Nichols is Green Left’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. Further analysis will appear on LINKS —International Journal of Socialist Renewal.]

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