Andalusia and Asturias (Spain) 2012
Regional elections were held in two Spanish autonomous communities, Andalusia and Asturias, on March 25 2012. All 109 members of Andalusia’s Parliament and all 45 members of the Junta General of the Principality of Asturias were up for reelection.
In Andalusia, each of the region’s eight provinces are allocated eight members off the top with the remaining 45 seats allocated on the basis of population. Each province elects between 11 members (Jaén and Huelva) and 18 members (Seville). In Asturias, although the region is made up of only a single province, the legislature’s 45 members are elected in three special electoral constituencies: central, western and eastern which respectively elect 34, 6 and 5 deputies. As in all Spanish elections, the d’Hondt system of proportional representation is used in these elections, a system which usually discriminates somewhat against smaller parties.
The Andalusian parliament, last renewed in 2008, came to the logical conclusion of its four year term. This was, however, the first elections since 1996 to the Andalusian parliament which did not coincide with general elections in the rest of Spain, because Spain’s last general election – in November 2011 – was held ahead of schedule. If you recall the regional and local elections held across Spain in May 2011, the end result in Asturias was a crazy free-for-all marked by the emergence of a new political force – a right-wing party, named FAC, led by Mr. FAC (Francisco Álvarez-Cascos) as the largest party but with only 16 seats. Álvarez-Cascos, a former high-ranking member of the right-wing PP, had created his outfit as part of a personal fight with the Asturian PP which had rejected his candidacy in the regional elections. Following the elections, Álvarez-Cascos was able to win the region’s presidency only through the abstention of both the PP and PSOE, which teamed up to compel Mr. FAC to govern under the budget passed by the left-wing government which had just been defeated. In late January, the PP and PSOE again teamed up to reject the FAC’s budget proposals, which compelled Álvarez-Cascos to seek early elections. In his landmark loudmouth sytle, he decried a “PP-PSOE alliance” and claimed the region was on the verge of economic collapse because he couldn’t pass his budget.
More importantly, these elections are the first test for Spain’s new conservative majority government elected in November 2011. Mariano Rajoy’s PP government immediately faced a catastrophic economic situation including a 23% unemployment rate, a rising public debt (evaluated at 68.5% of GDP in 2011) and a large deficit (8.5% of GDP in 2011). The Rajoy government now aims to reduce Spain’s deficit to 5.3% of the GDP, a goal which has forced the government to take tough measures. Early measures such as cuts in political party and union subsidies, tax credits for home buyers and spending cuts were well received but a pay freeze for public employees, tax hikes and a minimum wage freeze were unpopular. The government faced protests over a labour law reform which would make laying off employees cheaper and weaken industry-wide contracts. The PP’s honeymoon was not quite an honeymoon but voters retain more confidence in the PP than in the PSOE to solve the economic crisis.
As the PSOE struggles to return to more decent levels of support, it must do more than hope that voters will inevitably turn to it by the time that Rajoy’s government becomes even more unpopular. The left-wing IU is an attractive alternative for an increasing number of voters since the general elections. In February, at the PSOE’s 38th congress, the party’s hapless 2011 candidate, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, was narrowly elected Secretary-General of the party, defeating the maverick-change contender, Carme Chacón. Rubalcaba got no boost out of his victory, given that he is perhaps too closely associated with the Zapatero government to re-ignite the PSOE’s electoral chances.
Andalusia was the crucial contest of the elections, because it is the Socialist stronghold – governed by the PSOE since 1982 – but one Socialist stronghold which was seriously shaken in 2011 when the PP won Andalusia by a full 9-point margin over the PSOE. The leader of the PP in Andalusia, Javier Arenas, who has run and lost in three regional elections thus far – most recently in 2008 (he lost by 10 but did very well by historical standards) – has been campaigning non-stop in the region since 2008. If the PP could win an absolute majority of seats in Andalusia, it would be a critical blow to the PSOE, something akin to amputating a man who had only one leg left. If the PP failed to win such a majority, it would be a first warning bell to Rajoy and the national PP government.
Andalusia is the Socialist stronghold. In 2011, it accounted for a quarter of the PSOE’s entire share of raw votes (about 1.6 million out of 6.9 million votes). The PSOE has governed the region since 1982, and between 1990 and 2009, it was the stronghold of one of the most important barons of the PSOE, Manuel Chaves. Within the PSOE itself, Andalusia’s federation is the most powerful of all regional federations and the provincial section in Seville is the most important in the whole of Spain. Most of the PSOE’s historical leaders, including former Prime Minister Felipe González and his Vice President Alfonso Guerra, have hailed from Andalusia.
My Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election provides some general context to Andalusia. Here are some of the most important snippets:
Andalusia is Spain’s second largest and most populous community, and the land of national stereotypes for foreigners: flamenco, bullfighting, sunny beaches and Moorish architecture. Andalusia has a population of 8,415,490 (INE 2011). The capital of Andalusia is Seville and the community is composed of the provinces of Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla.
Andalusia is defined by its long history of Muslim domination, it was of course the last part of Spain to be conquered by the Catholic forces of Castile and Aragon in 1492 with the fall of Granada. The latter part of the Reconquista was mostly carried out by nobles, knights and ecclesiastical orders rather than by the crown and peasants as the first part of the reconquista had been. Therefore, upon conquest, the Castilian crown granted large – huge – swathes of land to individuals or hierarchic orders. The roots of the latifundios, and by consequence Andalusia’s under-development and perpetual poverty were laid. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Andalusian countryside was thus marked by latifundios, ruled by a local cacique who employed huge numbers of landless seasonal labourers. The cacique was the main source of authority and the go-to man for jobs, paperwork and loans. The rural inequality of Andalusia in the late nineteenth century led to the rapid growth of socialism and especially anarchism in rural Andalusia, two movements which transformed Andalusia into the main battleground of class warfare in Spain, with the landless labourers opposed to the rural gentry (señoritos) and the caciques.
Agriculture remains important in Andalusia, which is less industrialized than the rest of Spain. The main crops are olives south of the Guadalquivir, largely in the province of Jaén; cereals and sunflowers in the Guadalquivir valley (Seville province principally) and the very lucrative artificial cultivation of strawberries under greenhouses largely in Almería but also Huelva. Mining is of secondary importance, with declining profits from copper along the Rio Tinto in Huelva and lead around Granada. Andalusian industry remains weak, and largely dominated by increasingly unprofitable first transformation of raw agricultural or material minerals. These sectors face increasing competition from North Africa or Turkey. Finally, tourism has become a major bread-winner in Andalusia, the second most popular destination for tourists after Catalonia, primarily along the Mediterranean coast (Costa del Sol) which in recent years has been a curse of sorts for Andalusia, which found itself with a bubbling construction sector which burst during the crisis.
The “agrarian question” has long been a key political and social issue in Andalusia, which is the dictionary definition for agrarian inequalities. For most of the early twentieth century, Andalusianlatifundios were hardly lucrative and they remained led with an iron hand by the caciques, who did what they pleased when they pleased. They brought in labourers from outside the town, or allowed vast parcels of land to go uncultivated. This was also an era of eruptive social conflict, which contributed to the 1936 outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. However, Andalusian property became quite productive in the 1960s as they slowly took the path of mechanization which increased productivity considerably while freeing a lot of hands – hands which could soon be re-employed in the booming construction sector with the growth of coastal tourism in Andalusia in the 1960s. Thus, when the Socialists came to power in Seville in 1981 and then in Madrid in 1982, instead of launching an ambitious land reform which would have divided land between landless labourers or cooperatives, the government continued to encourage the policy of mechanization and modernization. In return, the Socialist government set up a system of agrarian unemployment subsidy to sustain social stability and their political powers despite high unemployment. This agrarian unemployment subsidy, reformed countless time and benefiting an ever decreasing number of labourers in Andalusia and Extremadura, basically offers seasonal labourers a minimum pension six months per year on condition of having paid in to the system by working for 35 days in the previous years and, since 2002, having received it for three years prior. Though only 145,400 people receive it now, it has been an important clientelistic tool in maintaining Socialist domination in Andalusia.
Andalusia remains a poor region. It has the second-lowest GDP per capita of all Spanish regions at €17,405 – far behind the €27-30,000 of Euskadi, Madrid, Navarre and Catalonia. Andalusia has an unemployment rate of 30.93%, the second highest in Spain.
Andalusia is a Socialist stronghold and one of the key elements in the PSOE’s coalition. Andalusia has voted Socialist in all general elections since 1977 and has voted Socialist in all but two elections of any kind since then (the 1979 and 2011 local elections). In 2008, the PSOE won 52.5% against 38.6% for the PP and 5.2% for IU (ed: in 2011, the PP won 46.1% against 37.1% for the PSOE and 8.4% for IU). The Andalusian regional government has been held since its creation in 1982 by the PSOE, though the PSOE fell to a minority position in the 1994, 1996 and 2000 elections. Manuel Chaves, one of the prominent ‘barons’ of the party, governed the region between 1990 and 2009. Though Andalusia is a very diverse region, the PSOE’s implantation is remarkably homogeneous, though it is slightly weaker in provincial capitals (as of 2011, all are governed by the PP), in the province of Almería and coastal areas (Costa del Sol) in Málaga. Almería, the most isolated of the eight provinces, has always stood somewhat at odds from the rest of Andalusia, as shown in the 1980 referendum. The PP is very strong along the Almerian coast, especially around El Ejido but also further east around the Campo de Níjar region. One would inevitably think that it is because of wealthy old retiree types as it is around Marbella and Málaga, but it is rather because of the region’s unique agriculture. The Almerian coast is in fact home to a vast sea of greenhouses (visible from Google Earth satelite images), where fruits are grown thanks to an ingenious artificial technique involving blowing the surface out, bringing soil, building a short wall around the patch, covering it (to create a greenhouse-like environment), digging a tunnel for irrigation, laying manure over it (primarily for heat) and then a bunch of sand. The owners of these greenhouses are largely wealthy entrepreneurial smallholders. […]
The PSOE, as mentioned above, has topped the poll in all but three elections of any kind in Andalusia since the Transition. However, it is a rapidly changing region. The construction boom resulted in major demographic changes along the coast, with old coastal mining villages in Málaga transforming into high-growth tourist resort towns. Agriculture is no longer the breadwinner of yesteryear, and the agriculture which is left is no longer the unprofitable latifundios of the past, but rather large profitable mechanized farms which employ immigrant workers. Subsidies (or, as opponents would say, bribes) for agricultural workers are drying up and the economic crisis has meant that the PSOE has less money to redistribute to its electoral clientele.
Andalusia has suffered from the economic crisis, with 31.2% unemployment in the fourth quarter of 2011. The construction boom and its explosion took a major toll on the poor region’s economy. Besides jobs, corruption has been the other main political issue in the region. My Guide had this to say the EREgate scandal in the region:
In Andalusia, the regional PSOE government finds itself embroiled in EREgate. EREgate involves the subsidization of early retirement in government-funded companies by the PSOE. In this case, around 3% of early retirement cases were found to be fraudulent and involved roughly €9 million. The government paid excessive early retirements or paid early retirements to employees who never actually worked for a particular company (ed: those people usually tended to be PSOE supporters or part of the PSOE clientele). The PP and IU in the Andalusian parliament have seen their calls for a commission of inquiry refused by the PSOE majority, which claims that claims are being investigated by the Employment Ministry alongside the courts. The PP claims that the PSOE is covering up a wider case which involves the current president of the community, José Antonio Griñán. […]
The regional president, José Antonio Griñán, did not call for early elections to coincide with the general elections – elections which he would have lost in a landslide. In doing so, he likely hoped to benefit from the inevitable voter backlash against the newly-elected PP government and its likely unpopular austerity measures. Yet, in all polls leading up to the vote, Griñán’s PSOE trailed the PP by between 7 and 13%.
Turnout was 62.2%, down from 72.7% in 2008 when the elections coincided with general elections. The results were:
PP 40.66% (+2.21%) winning 50 seats (+3)
PSOE-A 39.52% (-8.89%) winning 47 seats (-9)
IULV-CA 11.34% (+4.28%) winning 12 seats (+6)
UPyD 3.35% (+2.73%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PA 2.5% (-0.26%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Equo 0.53% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (nc)
For the first time in 30 years of Andalusian elections, the PP emerged as the largest party in the Andalusian Parliament with 40.7% of the vote and 50 seats, which also represents the PP’s strongest showing in any Andalusian election to date. The message of “we won for the first time ever” is the message which the PP has been trying to transmit out of these results, but the general media narrative about these results is about a PP defeat or at least a first warning bell to the Rajoy government. Indeed, the PP’s expectations were set quite high – winning an absolute majority of seats (55) – and the polls allowed these high expectations to flourish. Therefore, when the end result ended up being a narrow PP victory by a single percentage point, imaginably the narrative was about a pretty dramatic PP underperformance (no poll had it leading by anything less than 6-7%) and a blow of sorts to the Rajoy government.
To be fair to the PP, that they managed to win a plurality of the votes and seats in Andalusia is still remarkable no matter what, especially when the central government is implementing tough austerity medicine which is seldom popular. However, at the same time, the PP cannot help but be severely disappointed by its weak result. Inevitably, the PP suffered from the tough economic measures being implemented, measures which were beginning when they were not too bad but which are becoming increasingly unpopular as they become increasingly tough. Andalusia is a very poor region with a phenomenal unemployment rate, which some voters blamed on the regional government but which some could likely blame on Madrid as well.
Falling short of an absolute majority means that Javier Arenas probably will not be able to form a government, and if he does it will be a weak minority administration. In 2011, the PP had been able to elect one of its own to the regional executive in Extremadura, another historic PSOE stronghold, but it had done so because the IU had failed to seal a deal with the Socialists. In Andalusia, it seems as if both the PSOE and IU will make sure that this does not happen again. The PSOE cannot be too picky with the IU, and it will probably have to give in to the IU’s demand for an investigation on EREgate; but it seems fairly unlikely at this point that the two parties will not be able to get together, at least that is the media’s expectations at this stage. Griñán’s likely reelection as president of the regional executive will strengthen his hand in the increasingly fractious PSOE-A and provide a much needed boost to the PSOE’s morale which at this point only governs (as a senior partner) in the Basque Country (and probably not for long) and Andalusia.
The PSOE was defeated, but it won a “moral victory” through its stronger than expected performance and especially the unexpectedly narrow gap which separates it from the PP. It does show how low expectations are for the PSOE and to what low levels the party has fallen when losing Andalusia by one point can be considered a ‘moral victory’.
The PSOE lost nearly 9 percentage points since the 2008 elections, which had already been the PP’s performance up to that point. However, in a scenario reminiscent of the general elections in 1989, the main benefactor of the PSOE’s decline (besides abstention) was the IU, which doubled its seat count to 12 and took one of its best results since the mid-90s, the previous high water mark for the IU. In the short-term, the IU could stand to benefit more than the PSOE from the government’s declining popularity. The PSOE still has a credibility problem on the economy which it will need to overcome (which likely means dissociating itself from zapaterismo, and Rubalcaba is not the best person to do that), and until it does that (which it probably will, it’s a political party which wants to win, after all) the IU could be an attractive option for voters who are angry at the government and its austerity measures. On the other hand, as in 2011, the UPyD has been proving to be an attractive option for more moderate PP and PSOE voters alike. The PP likely shed some of its 2011 supporters to Rosa Díez’s party, which won 3.4% but failed to win any seats.
The PP emerged victorious in all four coastal provinces plus Córdoba while the PSOE dominated in Seville and won in Huelva and Jaén. In all eight provincial capitals, the PP emerged as the largest party, meaning that the PSOE retained its traditional dominance in rural inland Andalusia.
As explained above, the regional president of Asturias, Francisco Álvarez-Cascos opted for snap elections after the PP and PSOE blocked his budget proposals, which he claimed were crucial for his ability to govern the region. Álvarez-Cascos, a long-time politico who had served as a senior cabinet minister in the Aznar government, created his own party – the Citizens Forum (FAC) – as a personal vehicle for his personal vendetta against the local PP which had excluded him from the regional list ahead of the 2011 elections. He had already become increasingly opposed to Mariano Rajoy’s leadership of the PP, as a member of the PP’s hard-right faction. He won the 2011 elections narrowly, with 16 seats to the PSOE’s 15, distancing the PP by a wide margin. But his relations with the local PP have remained poor, even after his party’s sole deputy in the Congress voted in favour of Rajoy’s government (as a way to extract concessions which it never got).
Here are the relevant parts of Asturias’ regional profile in my Guide:
The Principality of Asturias is a small region, but it has played a significant role in Spanish history and politics which is somewhat unexpected for such a small region on Spain’s rather isolated northern coast. The population of Asturias is 1,081,348 (INE 2011). The capital of Asturias is Oviedo but the largest city is Gijón. The Principality of Asturias is a uniprovincial region, composed solely of the province of Asturias, known as the province of Oviedo until 1983.
The region takes its name from the larger-than-life Kingdom of Asturias, a Visigothic Christian kingdom which emerged in northern Spain in 718 as the first Christian kingdom following the Muslim conquest of the old Visigothic monarchy. The defeat of the Muslim forces by the Asturian monarch Pelayo at the battle of Covadonga in 722 has a mythical place in Spanish history (and political rhetoric) as the turning point and the beginning of the Reconquista. It is because of this history that the region takes the name of ‘Principality of Asturias’, with the Prince of Asturias being the heir to the Spanish throne.
Beyond the mythic existence of the kingdom of Asturias, the region’s prominent place in Spanish history and economics since the nineteenth century comes from its mineral wealth. The region is home to the bulk of Spain’s coal deposits and much of Spain’s steel industry. The discovery of coal in the 1830s transformed the poor rural region into one of the key players in Spain’s industrial economy, alongside the equally isolated regions of Euskadi, Catalonia and Madrid. In 1857, the province of Oviedo was Spain’s fourth most populated province, even more populated than Madrid. The coal mining industry also led to a strong organized union movement led largely by the Socialist UGT. Asturias emerged as a hotbed of revolutionary contestation as early as the first decade of the twentieth century, with the election of a PSOE MP in 1918. It was also in Asturias that the seeds of the Spanish Civil War were first sown with the October Revolution of 1934, in which the region was the only part of Spain where the PSOE-led strike wave succeeded and proceeded to turn into a violent revolution crushed brutally by the Moorish mercenaries of Franco and Yaguë. It was also in Asturias, in 1962-1963 that the Francoist state was shaken by its first strikes which prompted the nationalization of mines by Franco in 1967.
Industry accounts for only 14% of the region’s GDP, with the service sector, like in the rest of Spain, eating up the bulk of jobs in the region: 73%. The Asturian mining sector has declined in importance rather considerably in recent years, with the usual waves of mine closures and early retirements for miners. However, a fair number of mines remain in importance though their economic weight is increasingly minimal. The steel industry, once upon a time one of Asturias’ main industries alongside coal, is also in decline. As a result, Asturias’ GDP per capita of €21,882 places it in tenth place and below the Spanish average. Only decades ago, the mining and steel industry had made Asturias one of Spain’s most affluent provinces. However, the unemployment rate, 17.17%, is below the national average.
Asturias is traditionally a Socialist stronghold, thanks to the historic implantation of the UGT and PSOE within the Asturian mining industry. Asturias voted PP only in the 1996, 2000 and 2004 general elections though in recent years both parties have been within a few percentage points of each others. In 2008, the PSOE won 47.5% against 42.1% for the PP and 7.3% for IU (ed: in 2011, the PP won 35.9%, the PSOE 29.7%, FAC 14.9%, IU 13.4% and UPyD 4%). Mining communities are traditionally very left-wing, as is the working-class city of Gijón – governed by the PSOE between 1979 and 2011 – and the steelworking harbour town of Avilés. However, the inland regional capital, Oviedo, is an old bourgeois enclave in proletarian central Asturias. It had revolted against the republic in July 1936 when the rest of the region had remained republican. It has been held by the PP since 1991. The PCE and nowadays IU have traditionally had a strong base alongside the PSOE in the mining milieu, polling 10% on average and peaking at 16% in 1995. The PCE/IU returned one MP between 1977 and 2004, and despite losing its seat that year its vote held up well in 2008. It still holds a few town halls in the mining country.
The PSOE has held the regional government since 1983 with two interruptions: the PP ruled between 1995 and 1999 and the FAC, a new party, rules since 2011. The PP’s Sergio Marqués took the reigns in 1995 after the PP emerged as the largest party. However, he soon fell on bad terms with his party in Madrid and split from the PP to create the regionalistic URAS, whose 7% and 3 seats in the 1999 was a poor result but allowed the PSOE’s Vicente Álvarez Areces to take control until 2011, though the PSOE was barely ahead of the PP in both 2003 and 2007 and needed to count on IU. In 2011, the Asturian elections were noted for the emergence of the Asturian Forum (FAC), a right-wing personalist outfit founded by former Vice-President of the Spanish government Francisco Álvarez-Cascos. Álvarez-Cascos, who always complains that nobody likes him, was one of the most anti-Rajoy conservative members of the PP and was denied the PP’s nomination in 2011 when he came out of political retirement. His party, the FAC, went on to take 29.7% of the vote (barely behind a severely mauled PSOE – 29.9%) all while the PP collapsed to 19.9%. Álvarez-Cascos won the regional presidency with the abstention of all other parties.
The campaign in Asturias was not as mediatized and high-profile as the campaign in Andalusia, because it carried less national significance and the presence of a powerful local party (the FAC) blurred the situation up a bit. Most polls predicted a repeat of 2011, though with a weakening of the FAC to the benefit of the PP.
Turnout was down 11 points from last year’s elections, which coincided with local elections in the province. The low stakes of these elections and their organization less than a year after the last regional ballot likely demotivated voters. The results were:
PSOE 32.01% (+2.09%) winning 16 seats (+1)
FAC 24.83% (-4.83%) winning 13 seats (-3)
PP 21.53% (+1.58%) winning 10 seats (nc)
IU-IX 13.78% (+3.5%) winning 5 seats (+1)
UPyD 3.75% (+1.31%) winning 1 seat (+1)
Little changed in Asturias. The FAC lost the most support, losing a bit less than 5% of its 2011 votes and falling 3 seats, but remained the largest right-wing party ahead of the PP which did not do as well as polls had predicted. The PSOE won an additional seat and increased its support a bit, though with only 32% of the vote the PSOE remains at a very low level – even below its 1995 result though above the disastrous 2011 result. The IU won its best result since 1995, winning an extra seat and increasing its vote share to nearly 14%. In winning a single seat, UPyD likely took support from the right, primarily the FAC and PP.
With 23 seats, the FAC and PP have enough seats to form a coalition majority government led by Álvarez-Cascos. Both parties have shown themselves in favour of such a deal, though Álvarez-Cascos tended to be a bit cooler on the idea than the PP during the campaign. However, the PSOE hopes to gain another seat off of the FAC through the support of emigrant votes which are counted on Wednesday. The FAC’s last seat is held by a very narrow margin over the PSOE, and the Socialists hope that the traditionally left-leaning emigrant votes will be large enough to give the PSOE a seventeenth seat. In such a situation, both right and left (PSOE-IU, which have both quasi-agreed to a coalition if possible) would hold 22 seats with the UPyD holding the balance of power between the two blocs – though the PSOE would have additional legitimacy in winning UPyD over by cause of being the largest single party in the legislature.
The overall lesson from the first electoral test for the Rajoy government is that its measures are not receiving the popular approval he had wished for. Of course, anybody could have predicted that a government forced to implement such an austerity programme would not have a long honeymoon. With a general strike opposing the labour law reform called for March 29, and with the Socialists likely to retain control of their Andalusian breadbasket, the fiesta of 20-N is very much over for the PP. The PSOE still has a long road ahead and it has much work to do on its own, but the outlook for the party is much more optimistic now than it was after 20-N. The Andalusian results have provided a major morale boost for the PSOE, which all of a sudden thinks that its state is not so dire anymore and that its road to recovery may not be so arduous.
It is unlikely that there will be – that there can be – any major shift in government policy at this point, in good part because the PP has an absolute majority in Congress, but it should be prepared to face the wrath of voters before long. Arenas’ failure in Andalusia has worried foreign markets, because they fear that the PSOE government in Andalusia will prove to be far more reticent to trim its budget deficit to meet Madrid’s requirements than an allied PP government would have been. Yet, the PP still has the benefit of controlling the vast majority of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, which will play a critical role in reducing Spain’s deficit (their share of Spain’s debt and deficit has ballooned). It can, however, expect popular resistance, especially in regions such as Catalonia or Euskadi, to any “trimming” of the country’s ‘state of the autonomies’.