Could a left or progressive person draw any consolation from the June 19 parliamentary election in Andalusia? The landscape after the vote looks very bleak:
- The right-wing People’s Party (PP) achieved its first-ever absolute majority of 58 seats in the 109-seat parliament. Compared to the 2018 election, its vote more than doubled from 20.8% to 43.1%. The total right and far-right vote — for the PP, the racist and xenophobic Vox, and the neoliberal Citizens — rose from 50% to 59.9%, as 260,000 formerly left voters switched sides.
- The total vote for the broadly defined left — the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), the For Andalusia coalition (led by the United Left, IU, and supported by Podemos) and the sovereigntist Forward Andalusia (AA) was 36.4%, down from an already low 44.1% in 2018.
- The vote to the left of the PSOE, originally harvested by the Communist Party of Andalusia and later by IU and Podemos, fell from 16.2% to 12.3% (it had been 21.7% as recently as 2015). Since this vote was split between AA and For Andalusia, their total seat tally compared to a united result in 2018 fell from 17 to 7.
- The PP came first in all of Andalusia’s eight provinces — Jaén, Almeria, Sevilla, Córdoba, Málaga, Huelva, Granada, and Cádiz — with the PSOE losing Sevilla for the first time. The eight provincial capitals also fell to the PP.
Yet, hidden beneath these dark statistics, a seed of hope germinated. AA, the one genuinely left and andalucista force standing on June 19, survived the war of extermination waged against it by IU Andalusia, which since 2020 has been obsessed with re-imposing itself as the monopoly representative of left-of-PSOE sentiment.
In this operation, it has had the support not only of IU and Podemos at the level of the Spanish state, but — almost always — of all other parties in the Andalusian parliament.
AA’s two seats might seem a paltry result, especially as three MPs are needed to form a parliamentary group. However, its two MPs — leader Teresa Rodríguez and human rights activist and former senator Maribel Mora — will represent a clear parliamentary and extra-parliamentary alternative to the wretched standard approach of Spain’s non-PSOE left: to seek to get into government as the PSOE’s junior partner.
The survival of AA not only guarantees two powerful voices in parliament for Andalusia’s social and environmental struggles. It adds an invaluable contingent to the left forces in the Spanish state struggling for the right to national self-determination — denied by all unionist forces, from the PSOE to Vox.
How to keep Vox out?
Can the leap in the PP vote be explained by a mass conservatising of Andalusia’s voters?
Not quite. Before June 19, the overriding question for hundreds of thousands of undecided voters was how best to keep Vox out of government. To avoid that nightmare, would it be best to vote for the PSOE, Citizens or the PP itself?
This, and not the record of the PP-Citizens coalition government of Premier Juan Manuel (“Juanma”) Moreno Bonilla, was the key vote-changing concern.
Over the past two years, the Andalusian administration — like all of Spain’s regional governments — has benefited from the suspension of European Union (EU) deficit reduction targets and its emergency anti-COVID-19 funding.
As a result, despite some public sector cuts, Moreno Bonilla’s government avoided the sorts of disasters that would have led voters to throw it out of office.
Its record left the PSOE, lead partner in the Spanish government with Unidas Podemos (UP), with one line of attack: to blast the PP for its acceptance of Vox support, whether for investiture (in the Madrid region and in Andalusia itself) or to avoid a repeat election by conceding Vox actual entry into government (in Castilla y León in March).
How could another PP-Vox “pact of shame” be avoided? By voting for us, the PSOE and Citizens said. By giving me an absolute majority, said Moreno Bonilla.
The former two forces laboured under big disadvantages in this contest. The PSOE in Andalusia continues to be burdened by its 36 years as a regime-party notorious for clientelism and corruption; its brief spell in opposition did not convince voters that it had repented or changed.
Proof was that the June 2021 removal of its previous leader, Susana Díaz, produced no “new broom” effect, as PSOE lead candidate, former Sevilla mayor Juan Espadas, scored only 30 seats, three less than Díaz in 2018.
As for the idea that voting for Citizens would be a useful way of preventing PP dependence on Vox, a mere 3.3% of voters plumped for that option, 15 percentage points less than in 2018. Over half a million voters deserted Citizens, leaving the neoliberal party without any MPs.
With UP now domesticated as a junior Spanish government partner, Citizens has almost exhausted its function as a “Podemos of the right” and waystation for PP voters unhappy with the party’s corruption.
Of the PP’s 833,000 extra votes, 65% were Citizens voters returning home, 15% were former PSOE voters, while the rest came from people coming out of abstention to vote for what was seen as the best way to keep the far right out of government — by supporting the not-so-far-right PP.
Vox failed to achieve its goal of entry into a major regional administration, its first stumble in a three-year-long ascent and a cold shower for those predicting it would win 20% of the vote.
In vain, Macarena Olona, secretary-general of the Vox group in the Spanish congress, was parachuted into Andalusia and decked out in traditional Sevillana dress to lead its crusade of hate.
The Vox vote increased from 11% to 13.5% (from 12 seats to 14), but left it outside government and not needed, even to invest Moreno Bonilla.
Not PP, ‘Juanma’!
The election result rewarded the PP machine’s campaign, which was designed to smooth the way for voters with some progressive and andalucista sentiments to support Spain’s traditional right party.
In some ways, the campaign was not about the PP at all: its presence was reduced to a small logo on propaganda that everywhere projected the amiable smile of Juanma.
The premier, carefully surrounded by green and white Andalusian décor as well as a bit of PP blue, got boosted as Andalusia’s “safe pair of hands”, a “doer”, “modest” and a “listener”.
In a country where TV election debates often degenerate into shouting matches between rivals brandishing “lethal” one-liners, Juanma never lost his cool, treated opponents with courtesy and in general behaved like the ideal future son-in-law.
In contrast with Isabel Ayuso, who won the May 2021 election for the Madrid regional government, he did not look to compete for the Vox vote with racist dog-whistling, slogans about “freedom” and incendiary attacks on “communists and separatists”, but to build an anti-Vox coalition based on his record.
If that sounds like the sort of campaign that Andalusian PSOE administrations ran when seeking re-election, it is because it largely was — only the colour scheme had changed.
In her election night comment on the result, Rodríguez said: “Andalusia has had the dignity not to swallow a candidate like Macarena Olona … We have turned on the light and the monsters have scuttled off.”
On the IU war of extermination against AA — which included appeals to the electoral commission against its candidates being included in TV debates and receiving funding — she commented: “They devoted more resources to marginalising us … than they devoted to fighting the right and the extreme right. Today they should be re-examining their conscience.
“We did this campaign with one hand tied behind our back because they ran a campaign to leave us without money.
“We did this campaign with the enthusiasm of the membership. The best that Forward Andalusia has is its people, its rank and file.
“It was a bad idea to launder Juanma as a better option for left people to vote for. It was a bad idea to defeat the far right with a vote for the soft right.
“The way to beat the far right is with the mobilisation of people in defence of their own rights and advocating policies that defend and extend those rights.”
She ended by promising an inspiring AA campaign to get a sovereigntist Andalusian voice into the Spanish congress at the next general election.
[Dick Nichols is Green Left’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona.]