Spanish Thatcherism in Madrid and Tomorrow’s Regional Elections

I never thought I’d be as interested in Madrid politics as I have been for the last month. Basically, the Trumpian Madrid president, Isabel Ayuso, is trying to capitalize on some unstable political alliances throughout the country between her Partido Popular and the centrist/center-right neoliberal Ciudadanos. Ayuso handled the first wave of the pandemic terribly, but has leaned in to this hands off approach by calling it freedom, as opposed to the evil, tyrannical left-wing coalition of PSOE and Podemos in the national government.

She called for elections and to everyone’s surprise, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos and one of Spain’s vice-presidents, announced his resignation from the national government to run for president of the region (comunidad) of Madrid.

Since then, there has been political violence at rallies, envelopes woth death threats and bullets sent to prominent politicians, a multitude of references to 1930s Spain and the civil war, as well as a normalization of the fascist party Vox and their ideology by the media.

Madrid has been a PP stronghold for 25 years while being known for corruption and privatization.

Sebastiaan Faber and Bécquer Seguín in the Nation:

For the past quarter-century, politics in the Madrid region have been spectacularly corrupt. All four of Ayuso’s predecessors have been investigated or indicted on corruption charges. Meanwhile, the region has become a laboratory for neoliberal economic policies. — Sebastiaan Faber and Bécquer Seguín in the Nation

Brendan Boyle from his article in Jacobin last year:

Ignacio Sánchez-Cuena of the Catalan-based daily La Vanguardia believes that Madrid is a relative outlier in terms of capital cities across Western Europe. London, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels have long been viewed as bastions of diversity and progressive thinking, but the substantial vote in Madrid for the far-right Vox (16 percent) bucks this trend. “The capital city is today the epicenter of an uncultured and exclusionary Spanish nationalism,” he says. “With the security and arrogance that economic well-being produces, the dominant discourse of the right wing in Madrid states that the capital represents modernity and globalization, as well as a proud, liberal, universalist Spain.”

Tomorrow is the election. The left parties (PSOE, Más Madrid, and Unidas Podemos) only stand a chance if participation from traditionally non-voters in the southern working-class cities and districts of Madrid is very high and they gain enough seats to outnumber Vox+PP and form a coalition.

Meanwhile Ayuso has much better odds but will probably need Vox’s support. I’m seeing the Bernie problem again: the only way to change things up is more voices but those voices are small and at a whisper.

Results from Eleccións Galegas

After a few days camping around Portomarín and Sarria, I’m back home and have a few points to summarize the results of the Galician elections.

  • Feijóo’s fourth and “last” absolute majority will probably springboard him back onto the national stage and replace Pablo Casado as national leader of the Popular Party (PP).
  • The Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) overtook the Socialists (PSOE) as the lead opposition. Though they carried five of the seven Galician cities, in the rural areas, I saw much fewer campaign posters from Caballero’s socialists than from Feijóo or Pontón.
  • Galicia en Común collapsed and is left out of parliament. Outside of BNG, for whom my household voted, I’m partial to their ideas but they aren’t popular and have only fared worse with each election, regional or national. Leftism, at least those projects implicitly holding a centralist message in Spain, doesn’t seem to be working.
  • Vox will go without representation in parliament. In fact, after yesyerday’s regional elections, only Galicia and Navarra remain without the ultra-right party. Out of 313 concellos, the party only reached 5% of the vote in Ribeira.

Galician Elections 2020 for Anglophones

As I rest my brain from reacting to the failed state of the United States; its ineptitude at controlling the coronavirus given ample time, money, and other country’s experiences to prepare, rising unemployment, continuing police brutality against people of color, and an uninspiring democratic challenger, I look toward things closer to home. My partner, who is Spanish, cares little for politics and I truly can’t blame her. But in the interest of things Galician, especially written in English, I’d like to preview the upcoming regional elections this year.

Election Day is today, when people head to the polls under less-than-ideal circumstances. The elections were supposed to be held in early April, alongside the Basque Country (Euzkadi) elections. President Feijóo postponed them due to the coronavirus pandemic. Vote by mail requests nearly doubled from 2016 for obvious reasons. For Americans who are used to years-long affairs, these are quite short. I only started noticing campaign posters two weeks ago.

Map of Galician municipalities and provinces via Wikimedia, heavily modified by me.

There are 75 seats in the Galician Parliament for the four provinces. Each province gets 10 seats with the remaining 35 distributed according to population. In the last regional elections in 2016, the seats were distributed thus: A Coruña (25), Pontevedra (22), and Lugo and Ourense, our province (14 each).

Every party puts forth a list of candidates for each province, with their respective head of list, cabeza de lista, as their priority candidate. After the votes are tallied, parties are awarded a number of escaños, seats in the Galician Parliament depending on its vote share. If a party doesn’t cross a 5% vote threshold in that province, they don’t win any seats.

Other than being a multiparty parliamentary system, what interests me is this list system. Voters vote party, rather than a particular candidate. And a head of list or other candidate could theoretically win a seat to represent the province by voters from out of their immediate area.

There are numerous parties contesting the Galician elections in 2020 and I’ll highlight a few of them.

Welcome to the Parties

Status Quo and Insurgent Parties

Partido Popular de Galicia (PPdeG)

The Popular Party of Galicia is the conservative, center-right party that has governed Galicia since 1989 aside from 2005-2009, when a coalition between PSOE and BNG briefly held power. Unfortunately, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the current president, is expected to retain an absolute majority, despite his old ties to a Galician drug smuggler, despite funding cuts to public education, despite cuts to public health, etc.

Partido dos Socialistas de Galicia (PSdeG–PSOE)

The Socialists’ Party of Galicia, like its national formation which heads the Spanish Government in coalition with Unidas Podemos, is not much socialist as it is the traditional center-left party. Think Democrats, my Yankee readers. While it is true that they defend universal public health, there are still elements within PSOE who are very amenable to business and capital. Gonzalo Caballero from Pontevedra has been leader since 2017. Without reading up on him so much, he seems to have become leader in circumstances like president Pedro Sanchez, that of a prodigal return.

O Bloque Nacionalista Galego (BNG)

The Galician Nationalist Bloc is a at once a left-wing and nationalist party with Ana Pontón as its spokesperson. Different than the Catalan independentists, BNG calls for further autonomy for Galicia, recognition as a historical nation within Spain, and promotion of the Galician language. It was formed in the eighties by communist and socialist parties that were in favor of more home rule for Galicia. After reading even a quarter of Castelao’s Forever in Galicia, I am pretty partial to his and their ideas of true federalismo, something that a plurinational Spain would do well to adopt to better serve its diverse population.

Galicia en Común (GeC)

Galician in Common-Anova Mareas is the Galician left-wing coalition of Unidas Podemos, the once-fabled protest-turned-party that burst onto the electoral scene with wins in the 2014 European Parliament elections. Democratic socialist, anti-austerity, left populist. The national party are in coalition with PSOE in the national government and Communist Party and United Left ministers Alberto Garzon and Yolanda Díaz being in government is a good thing. The Galician bloc has incorporated various municipalist movements, or tides, mareas, from the 2015 local elections. After former spokesperson in Congress Yolanda Díaz joined the government, Anton Gómez-Reino from A Coruña has been at the helm. Unfortunately for Unidas Podemos at the national level and Galicia en Común at the local level, support has diminished in favor of PSOE and more probably BNG

Far-Right Populists and Weathervane Right-or-Left-of-Center Neoliberals

There is of course Vox, the far-right illiberal party that became a powerbroker in the Andalusian elections of 2019 and helped the first non-socialist Andalusian president gain power there. Anti-immigrant, deniers of gender violence. A lot has been written about Vox’s threat to Spanish democracy in the international anglophone press. Since it is my blog, I don’t need to be impartial. They are like those Americans who call millennials snowflakes, threaten people of color and immigrants with violence, cry wolf about how they are being censored, that there is a vast conspiracy of globalists, that there is a culture of silence and Spain must return to some form of proto-fascism. They are disgusting.

Cidadáns, the Galician arm of Ciudadanos, or Citizens, is also a recent neoliberal party originally formed in Barcelona. Originally billed as a social Democratic party, the party has swayed left or right based on political calculation and what alliances seem to be prudent for the party given each election. The formation collapsed at the last national elections and Albert Rivera resigned as party head. I’m not sure how much support they have in Galicia. We’ll see.

Smaller Parties

What’s Going to Happen?

We won’t know for sure until after all the ballots have been tallied, but all major polls point to another absolute majority for PPdeG and four more years of Feijóo. What is more uncertain are a few things.

  1. Does Caballero’s PSdeG–PSOE or Pontón’s BNG come in second to lead the opposition in Parliament?
  2. Given BNG’s rise during the campaign, how well does Galicia en Común fare? Do they lose half their seats?
  3. While Vox will probably not have much support, many are hesitant to write them off completely. How much support to they have amongst an aging, more conservative population than the rest of Spain?