The victory of the right in the regional and municipal elections has caused a political earthquake in Spain that has resulted in Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez calling early elections for Sunday 23 July. What are the perspectives at this junction?
The unexpected result, due to the extent of the defeat of the Spanish left, especially in those seats that were considered “safe”, has transmitted the image of a right-wing wave that is preparing an assault on the government palace in Moncloa with the knife between its teeth.
However, we must place the facts in their context and take the bigger picture into account.
We must start with a figure that has gone unnoticed in the mainstream media, and that is the relatively low participation, at 63.9 percent of the electorate. The abstention in the 28 May elections has been higher than in the regional and provincial elections of May 2019, which was already high. Thus, abstention went from 34.8 percent to 36.1 percent, with about 600,000 fewer voters. Moreover, the number of blank and void votes has grown by 220,000.
Undoubtedly, these 800,000 fewer voters must be largely placed within the left bloc, which tells us a lot about the lack of enthusiasm that the parliamentary left has inspired in a good chunk of its voters.
The right has gone from 35.37 percent in 2019 to 40.42 percent of the vote now; that is, from 8 to 9 million votes. PP and Vox have absorbed all the votes of Ciudadanos (the centre-right party), which has disappeared completely from the political landscape in these elections.
The figures for the Spanish left are difficult to specify in detail due to the disparity of municipal, and even regional, slates in these elections. As detailed a count as possible reveals that the Spanish left has gone from 8.95 million votes in 2019 to 8 million now, around 36 percent of the votes, a loss of almost 1 million votes.
To put things in context, we must remember that in the November 2019 general elections the Spanish right and its allies obtained 10.35 million votes. So there can be no talk of a “sweeping wave” or “massive turn” to the right on 28 May; but, even starting from the more abstentionist character of these elections, the social base of the right was more animated and mobilised than the left.
Undoubtedly, the disgusting spectacle aroused by the right and its media around the EH Bildu (Basque National Left Party) slates had some effect in mobilising the right. The same as the case of the attempted defrauding of the postal vote in Melilla and Mojácar, despite the fact that in the first one the PSOE was not involved, but a couple of PP members, among others, were.
In the absence of last-minute pacts that could flip the script of one or two large cities, the left has gone from governing 20 provincial capitals to only 12, and the right from 25 to 34. Right-wing Catalan and Basque nationalists have gone from five to four. These results highlight the loss of the left in favour of the right of relevant capitals such as Valencia, Seville, Valladolid, Palma and Cadiz.
At the regional level, the left has lost the important region of Valencia (its most important seat), Extremadura (a traditional PSOE domain), the Balearic Islands, La Rioja and Aragon, where there was a very unstable coalition with the inclusion of right-wing regionalist elements (PAR). The PSOE maintained its majority in Castilla-La Mancha by the skin of its teeth, headed by the representative of the right-wing of the party, García-Page. It has also maintained control of Asturias and, possibly, the Canary Islands, if it reaches an agreement with the Canary Coalition. Likewise, the PSOE could secure Navarre, with the abstention of EH Bildu.
To analyse these elections, it is worth looking at the most disputed and prominent seats.
In Madrid, participation fell by 260,000 votes compared to the previous regional elections of 2021. In fact, although she has won more seats than two years ago (going from 65 to 71, out of a total of 135), Isabel Díaz Ayuso (President of Madrid for PP) lost 37,000 votes, despite having absorbed a large part of the vote for Ciudadanos and Vox. The first lost 77,000 votes and the second 85,000. That is, the right got 200,000 fewer votes than in 2021.
On the left, Más Madrid (liberal social-democrats) and PSOE won the same amount of votes as 2021, and in fact Podemos-IU has lost more than 100,000 votes. Due to the undemocratic clause that forces a party to win a minimum of five percent of the vote in order to get seats, Podemos-IU was automatically prevented from obtaining a minimum of 7 seats at the expense of the right (having only won 4.73 percent of the votes), which has exaggerated the size of Ayuso's victory and secured her an absolute majority. It is true that it is Podemos-IU's own fault for not having inspired its potential base and for having fallen below five percent.
The truth is that, despite the impressive mobilisations at the end of last year and the beginning of 2023 against Ayuso's dreadful management of public health in the region, that does not seem to have had a significant effect in reducing her electoral support, except to reduce by 100,000 votes the gap between right and left, which still stands at half a million votes. Remarkably, the PP obtained 150,000 more votes in the Community of Madrid in the regional elections than in the municipal ones.
The reality is that the parliamentary left disappeared from Madrid and its neighbourhoods years ago, having not implemented initiatives of any kind. It has been without social leaders or prominent workers, switching out electoral candidates every two years, each more anonymous and insipid than the last.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that Ayuso benefits from the relative social and economic stability of the Community of Madrid, despite the inevitability of a new crisis that will affect the region. More markedly than in other areas, in the Community of Madrid there was a turn to the right of the middle layers, who were discontented and frustrated with the inability of the left to show a path forward in the period between 2014 and 2016, although that will change in the future.
Another factor is that 23 percent of the population of Madrid is made up of immigrants, a part of which lacks the right to vote, in a sort of political ‘apartheid’, and falls outside of political activity. For a politically backward layer of the working class, the left is all about disruption and chaos; and it fears that an abrupt political change threatens the relative economic stability of the region.
But all these illusions will collapse, sooner or later, as the housing problem and other issues become unbearable, as is already the situation in public health. The inevitable crisis will thwart the illusions of the most inert layers of the population, preparing a new turn to the left in the middle layers and more conservative sectors of workers, as in the period 2012-2016.
Having said all of the above, the left retained practically the entire "red belt" of Madrid at the municipal level: Getafe, Leganés, Parla, Alcorcón, Fuenlabrada, and Coslada. It only lost Móstoles.
Andalusia saw another great battle in Sunday's elections. The left went from 1.9 million votes to 1.65 million, and the right went from 1.55 million to 1.8, with a reduced level of participation, similar to 2019.
Here, the PSOE lost three of the four provincial capitals it controlled: Seville, Huelva and Granada. It only held onto Jaén. The most emblematic capital for the left of PSOE, Cadiz, also fell surprisingly into the hands of the PP, although its previous mayor, “Kichi” González, was not running for re-election.
In general, in Andalusia the division on the left weighed heavily between ‘With Andalusia’ (Podemos-IU-Más País) and the group led by Teresa Rodríguez, ‘Adelante Andalucia’ in many elections that were decided by very few votes. In Cadiz, the splitting of the vote on the left had an impact, with several independent candidates, including Podemos!, which favoured the PP.
It is true that, for this fracturing to have an impact, there must have been failures and inadequacies in the ‘Kichi’ administration, which has not met all the expectations of working families. Outside the provincial capitals, the left has retained the working-class districts and industrial zones (Bay of Cadiz, the petrochemical sector in Huelva, Seville's industrial metropolitan area, etc.).
Catalonia has had the most significant abstention levels in the country, at 44 percent. Here the ERC (the social-democratic pro-independence party) has paid the price for following the central government, and a section of the pro-independence base that had acquired up until now has turned towards the candidacies grouped around Junts per Catalunya (centre-right independence party). ERC has gone from 23.52 percent in 2019 to 17.39 percent, and Junts from 15.98 percent to 18.36 percent. The PSC (PSOE in Catalonia) has regained the first place in Catalonia with 23.71 percent, and has secured Tarragona and, possibly, Lleida. It also won in Bajo Llobregat and Sabadell.
The CUP (left-wing independence party) has regressed, losing 40,000 votes, falling below four percent, and has again been left outside Barcelona's city council. It has only had a significant result in the city of Girona, ending up as the second political force: the same as in 2019. Its increasingly moderate position, without any clear difference from Junts in its criticism of ERC, has made it lose relevance.
The abstention has weighed more on former mayor Ada Colau's En Comú Podem (Podemos in Catalonia) than on the PSC, without any significant difference in their programmes. The PSC has imposed itself on En Comú Podem within the left in Barcelona. Even more so than in the case of Cadiz, the administration of Colau in Barcelona has not deviated from ‘safe’ institutional channels, and the enormous popular expectations she amassed after eight years of rule have been weakened, by going hand in hand with the PSC in this last legislature.
Junts, with its candidate Trias, has risen as the top political force in the city with 22.4 percent, while ERC lost half of the votes obtained here in 2019. Now Trias and Collboni, the candidate of the PSC, are competing to be mayor, where the pacts that will favour one or the other are not yet clear. It all depends on what decision the ERC makes.
The Spanish right has only achieved a clear triumph in Badalona, where García Albiol has won an absolute majority (having already been mayor previously). This was a result of particular factors, such as his demagogic and reactionary handling of the migration issue. In any case, in Catalonia we must also qualify the “wave” of the Spanish right, since the sum total of their votes has only risen from 11 percent to 14 percent.
The Basque Country
In The Basque Country (including Navarre), EH Bildu has won in terms of the number of votes, although the PNV (right-wing Basque nationalist party) won in the Basque provinces excluding Navarre.
EH Bildu has clearly benefited from the criminalisation campaign of the Spanish right, which together with its municipal muscle has allowed it to achieve the best results in its history. It won handily in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Although in all likelihood, the PNV will secure the three Basque capitals by coming to an agreement with PSOE. In Pamplona, PSOE will most likely give the position of mayor to UPN (the Navarrese right), despite EH Bildu being the dominant force in the regional left.
As in previous elections, both in the Basque Country and in Catalonia, the left swept away the Spanish and nationalist right.
Galicia and Valencia
In Galicia there was a clear victory of the left, and the BNG (Galician nationalist left party) rose, due to its more combative rhetoric, although the PSOE remains the main force on the left. The Tides (the movement to defend public education and healthcare), linked to Podemos and IU, disappeared. The left won three of the four capitals (minus Orense), plus Vigo and the capital, Santiago, as well as the important city of Ferrol, to the PP.
But the greatest defeat has been suffered by the left in Valencia. In the regional elections, abstention rose, with 250,000 votes less than the last regional election, and the right prevailed despite getting about 100,000 fewer votes than in 2019. But the left lost 165,000 votes.
Significantly, in the local elections in the capital, Valencia, there was a significant increase in turnout, from 66.3 percent to 72 percent. But the left got 10,000 fewer votes, while the right increased by 31,000. Undoubtedly, the administration of the outgoing mayor, Joan Ribó of Compromís (left-wing Valencian nationalist party) played a role here. It is striking that, while the PSOE slightly increased its votes for both the regional and municipal elections, Compromís fell significantly in votes. And Podemos-IU disappeared from both the regional parliament and Valencia's city council.
In other areas, such as Asturias, the result was uneven. The PSOE retained the region and the left won widely in Avilés and the mining basin, but lost Gijón. The right retained the capital, Oviedo. Izquierda Unida won the mayoralty of Zamora for the third consecutive term.
A balance sheet
More than ever, these elections have been marked by the environment created by the increased cost of living, the inaccessibility of decent housing, and the precariousness of employment, which create enormous anxiety, weariness and uncertainty. This is most marked in the big cities, and the central government is not giving satisfactory answers to these issues.
When one hears ministers and leaders, especially Podemos and IU, commenting on the wonders performed by the coalition government, one can only draw the conclusion that the official leadership of the left live far away from the real living conditions of most working families.
While they speak with enthusiasm on issues of sexual, gender or ethnic identity (which are important), they have completely abandoned the most relevant questions of class and capitalist exploitation.
Although we can celebrate some of the measures approved by the government, they are not enough to provide security and stability for millions of workers. At decisive moments, the government has shown enormous cowardice or yielded to the interests of the rich and powerful, maintaining the essence of the PP's labour reform, and scandalously promoting it as an advance for workers, or accepting the blackmail of parasitic electricity companies instead of nationalising them, or yielding slavishly to the pressures of the state apparatus to keep the repressive Gag Law intact.
Vulture funds have become owners of the Spanish real estate and rental market, which has been opened up to speculation and for the parasitic business of tourism, being met with total passivity from the government.
The union leaderships of UGT and CCOO (the two main trade unions) have contributed to this scenario by doing everything possible to limit the scope of the workers' struggles, signing all kinds of regressive pacts with the employers.
The leadership of Podemos and IU have done the same over all these years, erasing the social and neighbourhood movements from streets with the inexplicable argument of “not harming the government”. In this way, the right has had a monopoly on criticising the central government's insufficient handling of the situation, one in which capitalism is in a phase of decline, and Podemos and IU are co-responsible for managing it.
Although the right's criticism of public disagreements within the coalition government has a demagogic character, the truth is that they transmit distrust and fatigue to the social base of the left, and help the right to group the petty bourgeoisie behind itself.
But this is the inevitable result of the commitment of Podemos and IU to a government where the leadership of the PSOE imposes very clear limits on the scope of “progressive” policies, so as not to startle IBEX35 (Spain's stock exchange index), US imperialism (on the question of Western Sahara or the involvement in the war in Ukraine) or the state apparatus (as in the law of “Only Yes is Yes”, where it has been the reactionary judges who arbitrarily reduced sentences of rapists).
The reality is that the timorous and half-hearted policy of the government has demobilised and demotivated the most active,and vital sectors in society, such as the youth and the more advanced workers and social activists, who look with disdain and disbelief at the political front. It was striking to see the near-complete absence of young people under 30 at the campaign rallies of Podemos and IU.
That said, another notable fact is that, while the PSOE maintains a vote share similar to that of previous elections, 28 percent, the political grouping that includes Podemos, IU, Más País and related left-wing regionalists parties, has fallen to eight percent of the vote. In the end, faced with political forces that convey similar ideas and programmes, and that govern in coalition, the bulk of the left-wing vote tends to be grouped in favour of the party with the biggest apparatus and greatest possibility of winning; in this case, PSOE.
Elections brought forward
In these conditions, it is worth asking whether bringing the general election forward by two months is the best way out for the continuity of the “progressive” government. In fact, it's a desperate move where Sanchez is playing all or nothing.
Sanchez's calculations do not go beyond gimmicky manoeuvres, the results of which are yet to be seen. He hopes that the constitution of PP-Vox governments in the coming weeks, in new autonomous communities and dozens of cities, will conjure before the population a frightening image of what victory of the right in the elections of 23 July would mean for the country. He thinks that should shake up the left-wing electorate to mobilise massively, as in April and November 2019. But it's not guaranteed to work this time.
In Sanchez's thoughts they must also weigh other factors. On the one hand, there are the limits that the European Union has begun to reimpose on governments in terms of public spending, in the face of increasing public debt everywhere, which he will not challenge.
Thus, there is no longer room for impactful new social economic measures, so the government will come under incessant pressure from an emboldened right for a long seven months. On the other hand, Sanchez also foresees that the furthest right wing of the PSOE, now led by García-Page, will make a stronger effort to organise opposition to Sanchez's leadership and the pact he has with Podemos and the IU. This wing would celebrate an electoral defeat of Sanchez more than the right, and will seek to take back control of the party.
But bringing forward the elections was not the only option offered to Sanchez and the coalition government. If he really wants to change the social mood in favour of the left, the government had it easy. He would have had seven months left to fully fulfil its programme: complete repeal of what remains of the PP labour reform, complete repeal of the Gag Law, taxes on the rich, ensuring that the Church pays property tax, etc. along with other measures to radically change the living conditions of the working masses, such as the expropriation of the homes of hoarders and vulture funds for social rent, expropriation of the electricity companies and so on.
That would inspire millions, shake them from their lethargy, and resuscitate the spirit of the millions who brought Sanchez to government. But the commitments of the PSOE leadership are stronger to the IBEX35 masters than to its voter base, and it will not risk the stability of the system or the regime. This is the reality of it.
The most immediate result of Sanchez's move is, more than likely, an electoral confluence of Podemos and Sumar (a new social-democratic political formation to the right of Podemos). A split here would doom the whole of the left to defeat. But it is now Yolanda Díaz who holds all the cards in her hands, and she will impose conditions on the leadership of Podemos, with minimal concessions, which it must accept without question. Podemos thus deepens its political decline, without a solid rank and file, and as its influence disappears from regional parliaments and municipalities.
Sanchez also has another calculation in his considerations. Outside of the fanfare and exaggeration that the right and its media are making about the electoral result, the reality is that the whole of the Spanish right and its regionalist allies have barely gotten 41 percent of the votes in this election. Vox, in fact, has clearly regressed, to just over seven percent. In the Basque Country and Catalonia, the right is very weak.
All this constitutes, in principle, a very narrow basis for an absolute majority in parliament. While it is true that the Spanish left has regressed in these elections, the nationalist partners of the coalition government, plus others such as Junts and the BNG that would never go hand in hand with the Spanish right, total 10 percent. El Pais has published a projection of the results of 28 May in a legislative election, and the right is far from the absolute majority, with the “progressive bloc” narrowly in a position to reestablish a coalition government.
However, morale must be taken into account. The victory of the right has inflamed its grassroots and may drag in hesitant sections of the population, such as the petty bourgeoisie and politically backward sections of the working class. A mass mobilisation of the left base, a part of which abstained in these elections, is not assured. The coming weeks will give us a more accurate picture of the situation.
But we need to take a broader view . Whichever government is elected in the 23 July general elections will face a very different picture from the last two years. The public spending party is over.
As we said, the European Commission has given very clear signals that it is time to resume cuts, and so has the OECD. Interest rate hikes will continue, with further cooling of the economy. Germany is already in recession, and the Federal Reserve forecasts a US recession at the end of the year. The new government will be forced to take unpopular measures.
With resentment building up over difficult living conditions, a major upswing in the class struggle is inevitable. A government of the right and far-right, with a very narrow majority and no stable or solid social base, would be particularly hated in this situation. From the political front, the working masses and the youth would move to the economic and social front with mass struggles, and anti-capitalist ideas spreading amongst broader layers, as we have already begun to see, starting with the youth.
The task before us, beginning with the advanced layers of workers and youth, is to put in place a socialist and revolutionary alternative, a communist alternative, that proposes a way out of the irrational barbarism of capitalism, committed to the daily struggles of the working class, and to the socialist transformation of society.