Spanish conservatives take Galicia; Basque nationalists win Euskadi

Sunday’s regional elections in Galicia and Euskadi (i.e., the Basque Country) have given just about everyone in Spanish politics something to be happy about.

In Galicia, the ruling center-right Partido Popular de Galicia (PPdeG, People’s Party of Galicia) of Galician president  Alberto Núñez Feijóo (pictured above, top right), the local branch of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular (PP, People’s Party), extended its majority in the 75-member Parlamento de Galicia from 38 to 41 after winning 45.72% of the vote.

In Euskadi, the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV, EAJ, the Basque Nationalist Party or, in Basque, the Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea) emerged with the largest number of seats in the Eusko Legebiltzarra (Basque parliament), with 27 seats on 34.64% of the vote.  Like Galicia, Euskadi’s unicameral parliament has 75 members.

As such, the PNV fended off a strong challenge from a more radical leftist and more firmly pro-independence coalition of Basque nationalists — the contest was widely seen as a fight between the more centrist PNV and the coalition of the ezker abertzalea (‘patriotic left’) formed this year, the Euskal Herria Bildu (EHB).

 The PNV, however, is now likely to form a government and its leader, Íñigo Urkullu (pictured above, bottom), is very likely to become lehendakari (president) of Euskadi.  Urkullu is the former PNV leader in Biscay, a stronghold for the party, and he became party leader in 2008.  The likely return of the PNV to government will put it back in power after only its first stint in opposition in the past 30 years.

So what do Sunday’s regional elections means more widely for Spain?

The result will give some comfort to Rajoy (pictured above, top left), who hails from Galicia, a center-right heartland within Spain.  Rajoy once served in Galicia’s parliament, and Rajoy and his party will be delighted to see Feijóo’s local Galician allies extend their majority.  After extending the center-right majority in Galicia and winning a plurality, if not an absolute majority, of seats in the March 2012 regional elections in the center-left stronghold of Andalucía, Spain’s most populous region (despite remaining in the opposition), Rajoy can take respite that his party retains some support throughout the country, which is suffering its fourth year of consecutive economic malaise and unemployment that’s perhaps the highest in Europe at just over 25%.

But the result will also embolden nationalist movements throughout Spain, especially Catalunya, where the separatist movement has taken an increasingly popular turn in the past couple of months.  Catalan president Artur Mas called snap elections early last month, and Mas is engaged in a high-profile political fight over regionalism with Rajoy — Catalunya votes on November 25.  Urkullu, who called for calm following the election, has been vague about his plans for the region, and he has not said whether he intends to seek full independence for Euskadi or merely greater regional autonomy.  But he is seen as the more moderate of the two Basque nationalist party leaders in a region where the armed separatist group, the ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), signed a ceasefire just one year ago.

The result will also provide some small amount of delight for the radical left, which can point to gains in both regions.

Within Galicia, the opposition remained fragmented, with 20.53% supporting the center-left Partido dos Socialistas de Galicia (PSdeG-PSOE, Socialist Party of Galicia), the Galician version of the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) and just 10.16% supporting the longstanding Galician nationalist Bloque Nacionalista Galego (BNG, the Galician Nationalist Bloc).

But the PSdeG fell from 25 to 18 seats and the BNG from 12 to seven seats because of the success of the Alternativa Galega de Esquerda (AGE, Left Galician Alternative), an alliance formed this year between former BNG leader Xosé Manuel Beiras and elements of the Izquierda Unida (IU, United Left). The AGE, under Beiras, won 13.99% and nine seats, a surprise of the evening — the radical left was expected to win seats, but no one expected the radical left, even in alliance with Beiras, to outpoll the BNG.

Galicia’s campaign had been seen as a test for Rajoy’s government, less than year into its mandate, but already unpopular over various tax increases and budget cutting measures.

Beiras was one of the founders of the clandestine Galician Socialist Party during the Franco era and, indeed, one of the founders of the BNG — he led the party from the early 1980s until 2005.  After Beiras left the leadership of the BNG, the BNG joined the PSdeG in a governing coalition from 2005 to 2009 — the first government not headed by the PPdeG in Galicia’s modern history.  Although Galician nationalists have not been nearly as strident as their Basque and Catalan counterparts, Berias’s re-emergence marks an ideological split for Galician nationalism, and it will be interesting to see which variant of Galician nationalism thrives in the coming years.

In Euskadi, the current government was a federalist coalition between the Partido Socialista de Euskadi – Euskadiko Ezkerra (the PSE-EE, or the Socialist Party of the Basque Country) and the People’s Party (Rajoy’s center-right party), under PSE-EE leader and lehendakari since 2009, Patxi López. But Lopez, unpopular regionally and the People’s Party, increasingly unpopular nationally, placed just third and forth in Sunday’s election — the Basque Socialists won just 16 seats (a nine-seat drop) on 19.13% of the vote, while the People’s Party won 10 seats (a three-seat drop) on 11.73%.

The second-place winner in Euskadi, the EH Bildu coalition, won 25.0% and 21 seats in Sunday’s election.  Its leader, Laura Mintegi, had argued that independence for the region is the only way to avoid the harsh budget cuts of the Rajoy-led federal government.  Nonetheless, in contrast to Mas’s approach in Catalunya, Mintegi has argued for a legal and consensus-based approach to independence.

Although it is highly expected that Urkullu will seek to govern with the support of EH Bildu, either in a formal coalition or informally, with the PNV heading a minority government, there’s some possibility that Urkullu could govern with the PSE-EE (again, in a formal coalition or through an informal alliance).

Unión Progreso y Democracia (UPyD, Union, Progress and Democracy), a social liberal party, won one seat.

 Although the two regions together represent about 10% of Spain’s population, the Nov. 25 regional elections in Catalunya will involve the country’s second-largest (16% of Spain’s population) and most restive region vote.  A strong vote in favor of Mas and his pro-independence Convergència i Unió (CiU, Convergence and Union) could destabilize Spain in the eyes of international bondholders, thereby increasing yields on Spanish debt, precipitating a potential debt crisis.

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