Election Preview: Spain 2011 (22-M)

Spain holds local and regional elections on May 22. The municipal councils of all 8112 municipalities in Spain, the Parliaments of 13 of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities and the Parliaments of both autonomous cities (Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa) are up for election. There are also direct elections to the Juntas provinciales of the three Basque provinces and the insular councils of each island in the Canaries and Balearics.

In elections to autonomous parliaments, proportional representation is used universally but threshold and constituencies depend from community to community. In all multi-provincial communities, provinces serve as constituencies and have a specific number of seats based on their populations. Asturias and Murcia, communities composed of only one province, are further subdivided into multi-member constituencies. In the insular communities, each island serves as a constituency. The threshold is either 3% or 5%. In Aragón, Asturias, the Balearic Islands, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León and Navarra the threshold is 3% in each individual constituency (there is only one constituency in Navarra). In the Valencian Community, which uses provincial constituencies, parties must win 5% throughout the community to qualify for seats. In Cantabria, Extremadura, Madrid, Murcia, La Rioja, Ceuta and Melilla the threshold is 5% by constituency (Extremadura and Murcia have more than one, all others form a sole constituency to themselves). In the Canaries finally, a party must win 6% throughout the islands or 30% or first place in one island.

Held a year out from the general election since 1995, these local elections are widely seen as a pretty good indicator of the political mood but also a pretty good predictor of the results of the big election in the next year. Except for 2007, the party which won the local elections went on to win the general election.

These elections couldn’t come at a worst time for the governing Socialists (PSOE). Spain is struggling under nearly 20% unemployment, a huge budget deficit and until recently on the brink of bankruptcy a la Greece/Ireland/Portugal. The government has been compelled to adopt tough austerity measures which have succeeded in bringing Spain back from the brink but at the cost of severe budget trimming which have caused social disruptions. Budget trimming is especially difficult in a decentralized country such as Spain, where regional communities (always clamoring for more financial powers) account for 37% of public spending. Hounded for his initially sluggish response and then his austerity-minded budgets, the Socialist President of the Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, in office since 2004, has won some of the worst approval numbers of any Spanish head of government and finally announced in April 2011 that he would not stand for reelection in 2012. The governing PSOE has taken the brunt of the blame for the crisis and its effects, and trails the opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) by roughly 15 points. Hardly inspiring numbers for a government a year out from the elections.

But the PP is winning by default. Its leader, Mariano Rajoy, has never been inspiring to anybody and his leadership ratings aren’t anything to boast about. He faced some internal opposition within the PP after he lost his second election in a row in 2008, but managed to hold his position. At any rate, Zapatero’s announced retirement is probably bad news for the PP. The two most prominent successors to Zapatero, the 4o-year old Defense Minister Carme Chacón and the Interior Minister and Vice-President of the Government Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba are both more popular than Rajoy and polls show they could manage to cut into the PP’s lead rather significantly.

But as of now the cards are placed unambiguously in the opposition’s favour. The PP is eying a win as significant as the PP’s landslide victory in the 1995 local elections. But though that victory presaged Aznar’s election 1996, the PP’s victory in 1996 was much narrower than its 1995 landslide in regions and municipalities. Below, I preview the races in all autonomous communities and in the major cities.

Autonomous communities

Aragón: The PSOE has held Aragón since 1999 with Marcelino Iglesias, who is retiring this year. His government’s number two, María Eva Almunia Badía, will be aiming to succeed him. The PP will be led by former President of the Chamber of Deputies, also a woman, Luisa Fernanda Rudi Úbeda. Since 1999, the PSOE has governed in coalition with the centre-right regionalist Aragonese Party (PAR), which had previously governed the region between 1987 and 1993. Polls indicate that the PSOE is holding its ground quite well, maintaining a narrow lead or a statistical tie with the PP which has nonetheless gained ground. The PAR is slightly down, while the left-wing regionalist Chunta Aragonesista (CHA) is at its 2007 levels. The IU might increase its presence from one seat to 3-4 seats. In any case, unless the PAR has a change of allegiance to its former right-wing roots, the PSOE at this level is in good position to retain the presidency of the region with the CHA and PAR as potential allies and the IU as a backer. Somebody closer to the ground would be in better position to explain why the PSOE has held up comparatively well in Aragón.
2007: PSOE 30, PP 23, PAR 9, CHA 4, IU 1

Asturias: The old mining region of Asturias has been held, with one exception (1995-1999) by the PSOE since 1983. Asturias will probably be one of the more interesting communities to watch, if only because of the division on the right. Last year, Francisco Álvarez-Cascos, the Vice-President of the Aznar Government between 1996 and 2000, made clear his intention to return to elective politics after his retirement in 2004. But the Asturian PP is somehow not fond of him and shoved him aside in favour of Oviedo municipal councillor Isabel Pérez-Espinosa. Snubbed, Álvarez-Cascos sent a letter to Rajoy explaining that he was quitting the PP after “insults” from the Asturian PP. He proceeded to set up his own party, the Foro Asturias (FAC). The division of the right between the official PP and Álvarez-Cascos’ rebels grouped in the FAC has given the PSOE a Pyhrric first place in polls even though its vote is down significantly from the 43% it won in 2007. The PP and FAC are left fighting for second place, with the FAC’s position wildly oscillating between a strong second and a more distant third. The IU, which retains nearly 10% of the vote in Asturias, is at its 2007 levels. Even if the PSOE does win first place, it is hard to see it retaining power unless Álvarez-Cascos’ hissy fit is at the point which makes differences between his outfit and the PP irreconcilable.
2007: PSOE 21, PP 20, IU 4

Balearic Islands: The right has been the strongest party in the Balearic Islands since 1983, but the left led by the PSOE’s Francesc Antich governed between 1999 and 2003 and again since 2007 in coalition with various left-wing parties and the fledgling Unió Mallorquina (UM). If the right wants to govern, it needs an absolute majority. The PP fell just short of keeping its majority in 2007, winning 29 of the Parliament’s 59 seats. Polls indicate that the PP is now extremely likely to gain at least one more seat and take back government. Interestingly, such gains would not be made at the PSOE’s expense if recent polls are to be believed: the PSOE has managed to increase its standing from the 28% it won in 2007 to roughly 30% and 20-21 seats. Instead, the PSOE’s ally, the Catalan PSM-IV-Entesa and the UM refounded as the Convergence for the Island (CxI) will suffer loses. The former will have minor loses, the CxI-UM could be swept out of Parliament altogether. At any rate, the PP has its best chance at a sure gain here.
2007: PP 29, PSOE 20, UM 3, PSM-EN 2, EU 2, ERC 1, Els Verds 1, PSMen 1

Canaries: The PSOE gained 9 seats in 2007 and became the largest political party on the islands, but was left out of government which has been held by the centre-right regionalist Coalición Canaria (CC) whose governments always began as coalitions with the PP but seem to invariably end up as CC-only governments. Polls vary rather wildly, but the bottom lines seems to be a general three-way tie between the CC, PP and PSOE. The PSOE will probably fall back to where it was in 2003 (25% and 17 seats), while the PP could gain enough to become the largest party on the islands. CC is at its 2007 levels. The Canarian nationalists of Nueva Canarias, well implanted in Gran Canaria, had narrowly missed out on representation in 2007 but has seemingly now cleared that 6% threshold to gain representation. If the PP becomes the biggest party, it could form a coalition with the CC (or vice-versa).
2007: PSOE 26 seats, CC 19 seats, PP 15 seats

Cantabria: Cantabria has been governed since 2003 by Miguel Ángel Revilla of the Cantabrian Regionalist Party (PRC) whose regionalist party has been the senior party in a coalition with the PSOE. The PRC was actually smaller than the PSOE in 2003, but Revilla’s popularity allowed the PRC to become the second largest party behind the PP which has topped the poll in the region since 1995. Revilla and the PRC remain popular and it is unlikely to suffer major loses, polls giving it roughly what it has today (11-12). The PSOE, however, will likely take a drubbing and fall below the 10 seats it currently holds to 8 or so and allow the PP to potentially win the 20-seats it needs for a majority. Revilla’s government likely hinges – like in Galicia in 2009 – on whether the PP wins an absolute majority.
2007: PP 17, PRC 12, PSOE 10

Castilla-La Mancha: Castilla-La Mancha is an interesting region and its closely contested election this year has become the symbol of these elections. The PP has been the largest party in general and European elections since 1994, but the region has been governed without interruption by the PSOE since 1983. Until 2004, it was governed by José Bono, one of the powerful PSOE regional barons and today the President of the Chamber of Deputies. Bono had narrowly held on in the PP-landslide of 1995, but grew his majorities in 1999 and 2003 although the PSOE – now led by José María Barreda lost 3 seats in 2007. Today, Barreda is fighting to hold on against the secretary-general of the PP, María Dolores de Cospedal. Polling shows that the race is in a statistical tie and has barely budged in any direction since the campaign kicked off. The PP seems to have a one-seat edge in most polls. If you watch only one region on May 22, make it this one.
2007: PSOE 26 seatsPP 21 seats

Castilla y León: There is absolutely no contest in the heartland of Spanish conservatism, governed by the PP since 1987 and which has had a PP absolute majority since 1991. The PP’s Juan Vicente Herrera will consolidate his majority with some small gains, at the expense of the PSOE. The Leonese regionalist UPL will likely hold its two seats. Somebody will inevitably make the symbolic comment that the PSOE will do badly in León, Zapatero’s home province, which the PSOE had narrowly won in 2007.
2007: PP 48 seats, PSOE 33 seats, UPL 2 seats

Extremadura: Extremadura is a Socialist stronghold and has been governed by the PSOE since 1983, and, until 2007, by the powerful PSOE baron Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra. It is thus very bad news for the PSOE to be in a tight race in its stronghold. The PSOE is either tied or narrowly trailing the PP, while IU – which lost all seats in 2007 – could return to parliament if it clears the 5% threshold. A very dire situation for the PSOE, but certainly a region to watch on May 22.
2007: PSOE-Regionalists 38 seats, PP-UEX 27 seats

La Rioja: Another snoozer in a conservative stronghold. The PP’s Pedro Sanz will sail to another majority in the region he has governed since 1995. Neither the PP nor the PSOE seems to be budging much from their 2007 levels, and it is unlikely that the PP will have major gains or the PSOE major loses. The regionalist Riojan Party (PR), which has held two seats since 1983, will either keep both or lose one. At any rate, it isn’t a contest to lose sleep over.
2007: PP 17 seats, PSOE 14 seats, PR 2 seats

Madrid:The interesting contest in Madrid was last year – the PSOE primary. The PP’s Esperanza Aguirre, at the helm of the region since 2003, won a record-breaking super-majority in 2007 taking 67 out of 120 seats. Aguirre, a top figure within the PP and a potential leader if Rajoy ever leaves, will likely re-edit – and build upon that impressive feat.  The interesting contest, the PSOE primary last year, saw Zapatero’s favourite candidate – Foreign Minister Trinidad Jiménez defeated by a rebel, Tomás Gómez. The PSOE’s wranglings certainly didn’t help their case much. IU could make some gains, but eyes will be on UPyD which hopes to break the 5% threshold required to win seats. Madrid’s legislature will now have 129 seats (+9).
2007: PP 67 seats, PSOE 42 seats, IU 11 seats

Murcia: Murcia is a conservative stronghold, one of the most conservative autonomous communities in Spain. The PP’s Ramón Luis Valcárcel has governed the region since 1995 with increasingly solid majorities (29/45 in 2007). Polling shows that the PP could gain two seats at the PSOE’s expense – such a result would be the PP’s best result in a region which has trended heavily towards the right in recent years.
2007: PP 29 seats, PSOE 15 seats, IU 1 seat

Navarra: From its days as a Carlist stronghold, Navarra has kept a strong conservative regionalist streak which is expressed by the Navarrese People’s Union (UPN), which was allied to the PP until 2008. The UPN has governed the region since 1996 in coalition, until 2009, with the Convergence of Navarrese Democrats (CDN), a 1995 split in the UPN by the more nationalist and moderate wing of the party. There were high hopes for a left-wing government in 2007, which had the sufficient seats, but all finally fell through. Since 2007, the second largest block in the Foral Parliament is Nafarroa Bai (NaBai), a Basque nationalist electoral coalition now composed of Aralar and the PNV. Eusko Alkartasuna , the dwindling left-wing non-violent nationalist party has been taken over by alleged Batasuna (ETA’s political wing) militants who have driven EA into a new electoral coalition, Bildu, whose legality was recently upheld by the courts over the traditional fears that it was the latest front for Batasuna/ETA. Polls show a stronger right-wing vote, with the UPN losing less (from 22 to 18-19 or so) than the PP is gaining (7-10). The PSN-PSOE will suffer some rather important loses, and the CDN is fighting for survival. Pollsters disagree on Bildu’s strength, but the combined weight of NaBai and Bildu seems to be equal to or slightly superior to NaBai’s successful showing of 23.6% in 2007.
2007: UPN-PP 12 seats, NaBai 12 seats, PSN-PSOE 12 seats, CDN 2 seats, IU 2 seats

Valencian Community: Valencia is a conservative stronghold, governed by the PP since 1995 and with an absolute majority since 1999. All that is unlikely to change, as Francisco Camps remains far ahead. The PP could increase its comfortable majority at the PSOE’s expense. The United Left (EU), now separated from its nationalist allies, will likely hold most if not all of its seats. The nationalists grouped in the Coalició Compromís oscillate a bit below the 5% threshold.
2007: PP 55 seats, PSPV-PSOE 37 seats, EU 7 seats

Ceuta and Melilla: The Spanish North African enclaves are both PP strongholds and any change is extremely unlikely. In Ceuta, the PP won 65.2% in 2007 and could win up to 70% this year. The real race is for second, which was taken in 2007 by the UDCE, a local party allied to IU. The PSOE could improve on its 2007 standing a bit at the expense of the UDCE, now united with a smaller left-wing local party in a new coalition. In Melilla, the PP won 56% in 2007 and could improve either a bit or a lot on that showing. The Coalition for Melilla (CPM), allied to IU, had taken second with 22% in 2007 but seemingly could now lose that second place to the PSOE. UPyD, apparently, could also be looking at seats.
2007: Ceuta – PP 19 seats, UDCE-IU 4 seats, PSOE 2 seats; Melilla – PP 15 seats, CPM-IU 5 seats, PSOE 5 seats

The run-through (which is certainly very incomplete and extremely brief) shows the dire straits the left is in. The PSOE could realistically lose all regions and be left with Andalusia and Euskadi. It could, perhaps more realistically, be reduced to just one or two regions such as Aragón, Extremadura or Castilla-La Mancha.


El Mundo has a fabulous map of the 2007 municipal elections which also includes some interesting demographic information. Particularly interesting is the municipal survival of IU in a good number of towns, the regionalist presence of the Andalusian PA in rural Andalusia, and Navarra’s dominance by local parties.

Much more could be written, but for time’s sake I’ll go through the laundry list of major cities:

Madrid: the mayor of Madrid since 2003 is Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, a prominent moderate within the PP. The PP will hold its solid majorities, with little movement elsewhere aside from UPyD’s potential entrance into the municipal assembly.

Barcelona: The traditional core of the Catalan Socialists (PSC), Barcelona has been ruled by the PSC since 1979 and though CiU has come close at times – most recently in 2007 – the PSC has always been the largest party. Polls have shown that this may change, as the CiU is narrowly but consistently ahead of the PSC’s incumbent Jordi Hereu in polls. All other parties represented would remain roughly at those levels. Jordi Hereu could still hold on, of course, with the support of ICV and the ERC.

Valencia: Boring stuff again in a city ruled since 1991 by the PP’s Rita Barberà who will likely hold all her seats and perhaps gain some more while the PSPV-PSOE remains predictably weak.

Sevilla: Something is weird in the state of Andalusia. The eternal stronghold of the Spanish left is apparently seeing a major shift towards the right, with the PP on the road to governing all 8 provincial capitals (it currently holds 5). Sevilla is the major target, with the PP on track to win an absolute majority (17 seats). Both PP and PSOE had won 15 seats in 2007, the PSOE governing thanks to the support of two IU councillors.

Zaragoza: Held by the right between 1995 and 2003, the Aragonese capital is held by the PSOE since 2003. The PP could gain an extra councillor or two, but not enough for a majority. This could save the PSOE, which, though on track to some significant loses (from 13 seats to 10-11), could yet hold on thanks to the CHA, IU or PAR.

Málaga: The famous vacation resort is held by the PP since 1995 and that is unlikely to change. Mayor Francisco de la Torre will hold and perhaps increase his majority.

Murcia: I’m sorry, but this is getting very boring. The PP will hold this stronghold, governed by the right since 1995, with another predictably huge majority.

Palma de Mallorca: Similarly to what happened in the region as a whole, the PP won the most seats in Palma in 2007 – as it has done since 199 – but the PSOE’s Aina Calvo formed a governing coalition with the UM (2) and the Bloc per Mallorca [PSM-EN and EU] (2). The PP is quasi-certain to win an absolute majority and win back control. The PSOE will suffer loses, as will the PSM-EN, but seemingly UM will be shut out.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: On the back of that impressive Canarian PSOE surge in 2007, the PSOE’s Jerónimo Saavedra won control of a city governed by the PP since 1995. The PP could see some small gains, but insufficient for an overall majority, while the PSOE will likely lose 3 to 5 seats. Nueva Canarias could hold the balance of power, and would probably back the left.

Bilbao: Bilbao is the birthplace of the PNV, but it isn’t a stronghold of Basque nationalism by any means although the party has governed the capital of Vizcaya since 1979. It is unlikely that any of that will change, with the PNV set to hold on or gain marginally. The PSE-EE and PP could lose seats or remain where they are. Bildu, finally, will make its entrance with somewhere between 2 and 4 – roughly HB’s weight in the city before it was banned. Bildu’s showing will be worth watching in Guipuzcoa (and San Sebastián), the province most favourable to left-wing Basque nationalist movements and to Batasuna.

The image in the top 10 cities of Spain is very bleak for the left. They currently govern five of the ten, and they could very well be left with 0 (or, more realistically, a pitiful 1-2). The map of Spain’s provincial capitals could end up similar to what it was in 1995: 39 PP, 5 PSOE. In that election, the PSOE had topped the poll only in Andalusia and Extremadura. It isn’t inconceivable to imagine the PSOE doing even poorer than that.


Posted on May 18, 2011, in Basque Country, Catalonia, Election Preview, Regional and local elections, Spain. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Great post:)

  2. Just an addition to my post:


    There are major protests in Spain, which are independent of any party or union protesting austerity measures, spending cuts, corruption and the party system. The protesters are calling to boycott the elections in effect, so it will be interesting to see how all this plays out. It is unlikely to help any major party, but could send turnout down.

    Their point is that the PSOE, PP have alternated in power and do the same things. The PSOE is implementing tough austerity, and the PP would do exactly the same. The Catalan government – led by CiU – is also implementing austerity measures.

  3. Excelent post!

  4. “In all multi-provincial communities, provinces serve as constituencies and have a specific number of seats based on their populations. ”

    In some, there is deliberate malapportionment: Barcelona is underrepresented, the smaller islands of the Baleares and the Canaries are overrepresented, the 3 Basque provinces are treated as eaqual, overrepresenting Alava.

  5. Catalunya and Euskadi don’t vote this year, so I didn’t cover them. Araba’s over-representation also serves to hinder Basque nationalists since Araba is the least nationalist. In fact, if the provinces were treated equally the PNV/Nationalists would’ve won enough seats in 2009 to form government. I suppose Barcelona’s under-representation ensures that Barcelona doesn’t play that huge of a role in elections and might also serve the CiU in deliberately weakening the power of one of the least nationalist provinces. And I suppose the small islands need at least one seat or enough to give them some weight.

  6. The equal representation of Basque provinces is actually aimed as a fig-leaf to low-population Navarre. If Navarre ever becomes part of the autonomous region it too would be over-represented. The Navarrese have, however, continually rejected joining the Basque region.

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