Spain held a general election last Sunday, 20th of November, amidst threats of economic intervention by the EU and under a dramatic economic crisis with unemployment rates matching the highest levels the country had experienced in the 1980s. It was not the best scenario for the party in government, the Socialist Party (PSOE), which had implemented unpopular policies, such as budget cuts in social services and a fast-track reform of the Spanish Constitution to limit public debt. The popularity of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was really low and the PSOE leadership decided that the former Deputy Prime Minister, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, should stand as a candidate instead to improve the party’s election results.
Notwithstanding this movement, the electoral prospects of the Socialist Party remained low in the pre-election polls and the conservative Popular Party (PP) entered the election campaign in a comfortable position. The PP’s election manifesto was rather ambiguous though, with no specific details about what economic measures they would implement if they won the electoral contest.
On the election day, the PP got an unquestionable victory with 44% of the popular vote and an overall majority of 186 MPs in the Spanish Parliament (350 seats). This will allow Mariano Rajoy, the conservative leader who had lost the last two general elections against Mr Zapatero, to have a comfortable position in the Spanish Parliament for the next four years. Although the victory of the conservatives was very clear, political analysts point out that the PP only got an extra half-a-million votes, whereas the PSOE lost almost four-and-a-half. Therefore, there is no clear voting transfer between the two parties and some analysts and politicians suggest that the election should not be understood as an overwhelming conservative victory, but rather as a catastrophe for the Socialists. Indeed, the PSOE got its worst result since the first democratic election in 1977, gathering only 110 seats (a loss of 59).
The PP’s victory (or the Socialists’ defeat) has followed a homogeneous pattern across Spain. The conservatives have won in all the Spanish Autonomous Communities, except in Catalonia and the Basque Country.
The PSOE had clearly won in both sub-state nations in 2008. Their good results were due to its agressive campaign against the PP, which is more centralist and Spanish nationalist in nature, so a majority of Basques and Catalans supported the PSOE, which was perceived as more willing to accept political decentralisation and Spain’s cultural diversity. However, this image did not save the Socialists from being punished by the two nations’ voters either, but instead of voting for the conservatives, a majority of the electorate supported Catalan and Basque nationalist political parties.
The victory of the Catalan nationalists of CiU (Convergència i Unió) was totally unexpected. The polls suggested that the Socialist would lose many votes in Catalonia, but none had shown a victory of CiU. Actually, it is the first time that the Socialists do not win a general election in Catalonia. CiU got 16 MPs and gathered 29% of the vote compared to the PSOE’s 14 seats and 26%. The result in Catalonia means a double victory for the centre-right nationalist party: they beat the Socialists in a general election for the first time, and CiU leading also the Catalan government, their budget cuts and austerity measures have received the backing of many Catalans. After this general election there is no doubt about who speaks for Catalonia: CiU won the Catalan election and the general election in Catalonia, and also they won in May the municipal election in Barcelona , the capital, and thus another victory of huge political significance.
The results in the Basque Country also diverged from the Spanish trend. The centre-right nationalist party, the PNV, won the general election with 27% of the vote and gathered 5 seats in the Basque Country. However, another Basque nationalist party, Amaiur, gathered 6 seats despite its 23% of the popular vote due to the effects of the electoral system. Amaiur is a left-wing Basque nationalist coalition of different parties, including members of the outlawed Batasuna, which had links with the separatist armed organisation ETA. After the abandonment of violence declared by ETA in October, the left-wing Basque nationalist coalition was allowed to take part in the election and ranked first, in number of seats, amongst all Basque political parties. The PSOE and the PP in the Basque lands got 21% and 17% of votes respectively.
The regional map of the election results shows what has been called a ‘blue tsunami’ of the Spanish conservative party. Two territories show a different colour, though, the Basque Country and Catalonia, where nationalist parties have clearly benefitted form the Socialist setback. Nationalist parties in both nations run for election raising demands for further constitutional change. The main proposal of the Catalan CiU was full fiscal autonomy for Catalonia; whereas the PNV aims to revise the constitutional status of the Basque Country and Amaiur claims the recognition of the self-determination right of the Basque people and pushes for independence. The election results strengthened the territorial claims of the Catalan and Basque nationalists, but also strengthened the PP in Madrid. The conservatives will probably not concede any of the demands presented by the nationalists on grounds of territorial homogeneity and equality amongst all Spaniards. However, the election results suggest that not all Spaniards are equal, at least on political preferences. If demands are not satisfied to some extent, we will probably see an escalade of territorial conflict in the years to come between the majority nation, which backed a centralist and Spanish nationalist party, and the two minority nations, which backed parties demanding further self-government and national recognition. In conclusion, then, a scenario of one state, three nations.