Daily Archives: October 29, 2012
Early regional elections in the Basque Country (Euskadi or CAPV) and Galicia were held on October 21, 2012. The Basque Country and Galicia are autonomous communities of Spain. My famous Guide to the 2011 Spanish Election includes tons of details about regional autonomy in Spain, the roots of the current regional structure and other issues related to autonomous communities.
Euskadi (Basque Country)
The Basque Parliament (Eusko Legebiltzarra/Parlamento Vasco) has 75 members, elected by province through d’Hondt closed party-list PR with a 3% threshold by province. Each province (Álava/Araba, Guipúzcoa/Gipuzkoa and Vizcaya/Bizkaia) elects 25 members. The lehendakari, the head of the Basque government, is elected by the Parliament.
Provinces have played a major role in Basque history; until the 19th century most Basques identified with their province rather than a broader Basque nation. The Basque provinces, unlike all other Spanish provinces, retain elected government (diputaciones) which, under the Basque Country’s special fiscal status (the concierto económico), have the power to collect and distribute taxes. However, the three Basque provinces do not have similar populations. The southern province of Álava has a population just under 320,000 while Biscay has a population over 1.1 million. The equal distribution of seats between the provinces was meant to be a means of ensuring Álava’s support for Basque autonomy and as a means of enticing Navarra from joining the CAPV (which has never happened). If seats were to be distributed equally, Biscay would elect 38 member to Álava’s 13.
My Guide, noted above, included a profile of the Basque Country:
Euskadi is the most well known of Spain’s regions to the casual observers, if only because of the existence of an armed terrorist movement seeking independence. It is also a matter of political debate where nobody can ever agree on anything. Basque nationalism is, alongside Catalan nationalism, of the two main peripheral nationalisms in Spain which drive and influence Spanish politics so much. The existence of a terrorist movement seeking Basque independence has given the region and Basque nationalism as a whole a bad name, which it does not deserve. The population of Euskadi is 2,183,615 (INE 2011). The capital of Euskadi is Vitoria-Gasteiz but the largest city is Bilbao. The community is composed of the provinces (called ‘historical territories’) of Biscay (Bizkaia or Vizcaya), Gipuzkoa (in Spanish, Guipúzcoa), Álava (in Basque, Araba). Basque provinces, unlike all other provinces, have a directly elected legislature (Juntas Generales) and are responsible for raising taxes. The region is known as Euskadi or the Basque Country (in Spanish, País Vasco). I prefer the term ‘Euskadi’ because it is both shorter and commonly used to refer to the political ‘Basque Country’ which excludes Navarre and the three French Basque provinces. The Basque term ‘Euskal Herria’ (which means ‘land of Basques’ or close to that) is used to refer the greater Basque region including both the autonomous community of the three provinces (often referred to in short as ‘CAPV’ or Euskadi), Navarre and the three French Basque provinces (Iparralde).
Basque history is long, fascinating and very controversial as it is inherently political given the founding tenets of Basque nationalism. The Basques speak a language known as Euskara or Basque, which is famous for being a language isolate. It is one of the few languages in Europe which is not Indo-European and the origins of either Euskara or the Basque people are not known for certain. The mainstream view are that the Basques are the last remaining ancestors of the pre-Indo-European peoples of Europe and have lived in the region since the prehistoric Aurignacian period. That is the most commonly accepted view, though it is by no means universal nor is it a proven ‘fact’. Original Basque nationalist theses claim that the extraordinary resistance of the Basque people to outside influences and conquest is a sign of the racial superiority of the Basque race above all others, though this is, of course, false. The Basque people are a very strong-willed people, extremely proud of their identity, lifestyle and ancestors. Furthermore, it also helps that the Basque terrain is quite harsh and unfavourable to foreign domination. The valleys and mountains of northern Euskadi and Navarre are very wooded and patchy, making it perfect for locals to hide and hardly appealing to foreign invaders. Basques have long defended themselves against any foreign invaders, most notably when Basque hordes massacred Charlemagne’s Frankish troops at Roncesvaux in 778. The Franks, Visigoths and later Muslims never managed to exercise full control over the Basque lands and Navarre. A Basque kingdom, which later became the Kingdom of Navarre, emerged in 824. Under Sancho III the Great (1000-1035), the Kingdom of Navarre reached its peak of influence through Sancho’s marriages and alliances which expanded the Navarrese realm westwards into present-day Old Castile. The coastal areas of the kingdom had come under Castilian control in 1199, though the Castilians had promised to recognize and uphold the special charters (fueros) of the Basque provinces. Civil war in Navarre allowed the Castilians to conquer Navarre between 1512 and 1524, although, again, by promising to recognize and uphold the Navarrese fueros. These fueros granted the provinces fiscal, legal and political autonomy, various exemptions from trade regulations, exemption from military service outside their province and so forth. To speak of a “Basque people”, united with a strong national conscience like the Catalans is, however, totally misleading. Basques were strongly attached to their families, community and at most to their province but there was no common identification as “Basques” above all. The family, village and province were their markers of identification, not an artificial “Basque nation”. Attached to their home turf, traditions and legal advantages, the Basques strongly identified with the ultra-conservative Carlist movement during the First Carlist War. Even after the Carlist defeat in 1839, the fueros were maintained and Euskadi remained a Carlist stronghold until at least the Second Republic. The Basque fueros were abolished in 1876.
The loss of the fueros in 1876 and Euskadi’s integration in the Spanish market proved beneficial to Basque economy, especially in the province of Biscay. In the late nineteenth century, large-scale mining of rich iron ore deposits in western Biscay led to emergence of Euskadi as Spain’s second main industrial and trading hub (after Catalonia). Originally exported to Britain for processing, Bilbao and western Biscay went on to acquire their own blast furnaces to process the iron ore into steel. While Basque steel production – the main economic activity in Euskadi until the 1970s – was concentrated around the Bilbao estuary and the city’s left bank, it was by no means just a local industry: metallic transformation, siderurgy and related industry was a major industry in the rest of northern Euskadi. The steel industry in Euskadi made the region one of the country’s wealthiest regions, and, as such, attracted much internal migrants starting in the late nineteenth century and picking up again during the Francoist era especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Most immigrants to Euskadi came from the neighboring (and poorer) regions of Old Castile, La Rioja, Navarre or the more distant but very poor Galicia. Unlike in Catalonia, there was not much immigration from southern Spain. According to a 2010 study, while 74% of Basques were born in the autonomous community, only 51-53% saw their parents were born in Euskadi as well. 16% said their parents were born in Castile and León, 6% in Extremadura and Galicia and 3% said their parents were born in Andalusia. Galicia and Old Castile are very conservative regions (although poor), but that did not prevent visceral opposition to non-Basques and general xenophobia from being a founding tenet of Basque nationalism.
The founding father of Basque nationalism is Sabino Arana, who was by all accounts a rather insane man with a weird mish-mash of reactionary, racist, xenophobic and ethnocentrist ideals and myths. In his seminal work on the issue, Bizkaia por su independencia, Arana’s thesis is the stark separation between a pure, devoutly Catholic, superior, manly and intelligent Basque race and a impure, atheist/socialist/liberal (Arana hated all three), feminine and inferior Spanish race. Arana considered the immigration of non-Basques, maketos or ‘Koreans’, to Euskadi to be a danger to the moral fabric of Basque society and a threat to all that is Basque (Catholicism, racial superiority, Euskara). Those maketos, with their new-fanged ideas of socialism and atheism were clear dangers to Basque society and they should be run out of town with stones and sticks, in order to defend the traditional, Catholic Basque society. The original ideology of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), founded by Arana in 1895, can be summarized in the party’s motto: Jaungoikoa eta Lagi-zaŕa (God and the ‘old laws’ [fueros]). Arana, despite his faults, had a huge influence on Basque nationalism and the whole Basque society. He ‘created’ a history for Euskadi, based partly on facts and a lot on myths; he designed the Basque flag; invented a Euskara vocabulary of political neologisms; he wrote the anthem; he even came up with the term ‘Euskadi’ itself. Arana was a separatist for most of his life, but he had a strange and unexplained change of heart a year before his death, when he became an autonomist. Since then, the PNV has found itself oscillating between autonomy and independence, usually leaning for the first option. The PNV grew in the 1910s to emerge as the largest Basque nationalist force during the Second Republic, where it sided with the republicans in exchange for the formation of the first autonomous Basque government excluding Navarre in 1936.
The Basque economy has historically been based around heavy industry: iron ore mining in western Biscay, steel works and siderurgy in the rest of northern Euskadi but particularly around Bilbao, the economic capital of Euskadi. Industry still accounts for 22.5% of the region’s GDP despite the steel crisis in the 1970s-1980s which forced industrial reconversion in much of Euskadi. Industry and since the 1980s the success of industrial reconversion in favour of services, finance and tourism has made the Basque country a small motor for the whole Spanish economy (6.2% of Spain’s GDP) and also the wealthiest region in all of Spain – even ahead of Catalonia. Euskadi’s GDP per capita of €31,314 is the highest in Spain and is much above the EU and Spanish average. Its unemployment rate, 12.17%, is the second lowest in the country. Euskadi suffered heavily from the steel crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s, which led to a decline in the region’s population and high unemployment as most steel plants and shipyards closed their doors. Bilbao and its industrial left bank was touched especially hard, but Bilbao has since bounced back with a vengeance with a spectacularly successful program of industrial reconversion and urban renewal, pushed initially by the Guggenheim Museum and since then by urban development, tourism and a growth in the upper-end service and technology sector (BBVA bank, Iberdrola). Euskadi is also known for the largest workers cooperative in the world, Mondragon, which is based in the small working-class Gipuzkoan town of Arraste-Mondragón. The Basque economy has significantly benefited from the region’s ability to raise taxes on its own account (like Navarre), instead of being heavily dependent on tax transfers from Madrid.
Basque politics and nationalist competition has been influenced so much by ETA, the separatist terrorist organization which has killed over 800 in Euskadi and across Spain since its foundation in 1959. ETA has been successful in driving a wedge through Basque society, rendering the issue of Basque nationhood and self-determination extremely divisive and problematic. Unlike ‘Catalanism’ and Catalan nationalism which is far less problematic, Basque nationalism is not backed up by a century-long history of cohesive, broad ‘national identity’ as in Catalonia which had a very precocious notion of its own ‘nationhood’. Euskara or Basque nationalism has not historically had a broad intellectual and cultural base like Catalan nationalism, which had a strong cultural background and intellectual contingent backing it up. These factors, plus ETA’s existence, have made politics in Euskadi very polarized. ETA’s violence was not and will not be successful in forcing Madrid to give it all it wants, but it has been successful in restricting the political debate (until recently). Up until the 1990s or early 2000s, ETA’s indiscriminate terror created a climate of fear which discouraged extensive political dialogue, participation or activism from those who were not Basque nationalists or even those who were moderate nationalists. That changed in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the emergence of virulently anti-nationalist and anti-ETA civic organizations such as ¡Basta Ya! which form the roots of the UPyD, which has a small but loyal base with non-nationalist Basques.
ETA has also split Basque nationalism into two streams: the ‘moderate’ or ‘democratic’ stream, more centrist or centre-right, dominated by the PNV, Euskadi’s natural governing party; and the left-abertzale stream, left-wing, more radical and in general more favourable of ETA’s actions as a necessary evil on the path to independence (but increasingly critical since 2006). To think of “Basque nationalism” a common, all-encompassing movement is very misleading. Basque nationalism is marked as much by the ideological struggle of nationalism carried out against the ‘Spanish parties’ (PSE, PP) as by the internal competition for the nationalist capital. The PNV is the largest Basque nationalist party, but its position in the centre of the political spectrum in Euskadi has opened it to virulent criticism from theabertzale parties (either as too conservative, too soft on nationalism or ‘traitors’ to the national cause). In the 1980s, the main abertzale forces were Herri Batasuna (HB), ETA’s political front; Euskadiko Ezkerra (EE), a non-violent left-nationalist party formed out of ETA’s moderate ETA-pm wing in the 1970s and after 1986 Eusko Alkartasuna (EA), a non-violent left-nationalist party led by former PNV regional president (lehendakari) Carlos Garaikoetxea. Most of EE merged with the PSE in 1993, reducing the field to the violent pro-ETA HB and the non-violent left-wing EA which increasingly became the PNV’s junior partner after 1998. HB and its subsequent incarnations (EH, Batasuna, EAE-ANV, EHAK-PCTV, SA, Sortu, the list goes on) were banned beginning in 2002. Since 2011, the main abertzale force is Bildu, whose trajectory and controversial nature is discussed in the section on political parties.
The official languages of Euskadi are Spanish and Euskara (Basque). Basque is a language isolate and one of the handful of non-Indo-European languages in Europe. It is entirely different from Spanish or any other widely-used European language, meaning that is much harder to learn from a Spanish-speaker (or anybody else) than Catalan or Galician would be. If you don’t believe me; ‘Sartaldeko oihanetan gatibaturik‘ means ‘Captive in the rainforests of the West’. The survival of the Basque language is proof of the tremendously resilient, strong-willed nature of Basques, proud of their heritage like none other. 76% of Basques identify Spanish as their mother tongue, 18.7% identify Euskara as their mother tongue while 5% identify both as their mother tongues. The most Basque-speaking province is and has always been Gipuzkoa (35.8% Basque mother tongue), while Álava has always been the least Basque-speaking province (93.6% Spanish mother tongue). Euskara has come back from the brink of extinction in the 1950s when its use was banned and repressed. Basque is now something of the ‘preferred’ language in Euskadi like Catalan in Catalonia (though not as strictly and universally enforced), and its use is especially prevalent in education. In Basque schools, there are three models to choose from: A is Spanish with Basque language courses, B is bilingual and D is Basque with Spanish language courses. D is the preferred option at all levels, from 71% in child education to 52% in post-secondary. Generally, lower-level education is heavily ‘D’ while higher-level education and especially post-secondary studies are more balanced though option D now outweighs A. Overall, 62% of students of all levels are in option D, 12.7% are in option A and 24.7% in option B. The level of D education ranges from 76.5% in Gipuzkoa to 42% in Álava.
A 2006 study showed the payoff of Basque-intensive education: 57.5% of those 16-24 are full bilinguals compared to 30.1% in the wider population. Only 17.6% of those 16-24 do not speak Basque compared to 51.5% of the wider population. Overall, 51.5% of Basques are thus Spanish-uni-lingual, 30.1% are bilingual and 18.3% are ‘passive bilinguals’. Gipuzkoa has the highest percentage of full bilinguals: 49%. But 65.8% in Álava and 57.7% in Biscay do not speak Basque. Generally, the youngest Basques are in majority bilingual, those between 35 and 64 are in majority uni-lingual and those over 65 are more bilingual. Proficiency in Basque has kept growing at a rapid and encouraging pace since the 1980s, and most of those who lose Basque language skills are old. Yet, Basque still faces challenges in society. 70% use Spanish only, only 12.5% use Basque more than Spanish. Full bilinguals of course tend to speak in Basque as much as or more often than they do in Spanish, but even with full bilinguals the use of Spanish is preferred in social situation such as work, outside or in social situations.
The PNV plays a central role in Basque politics and government. It is something of a ‘natural governing party’ or a ‘perennial winner’ in Euskadi though it is not by any means the ‘dominant’ political force. It faces competition within the nationalist arena to its left and competition outside the nationalist arena from both left (Socialists) and right (PP). In 43 electoral events since 1977, the PNV has been the largest party in Euskadi in 40 of those (the PSE in 2, HB in 1). The PNV’s domination of Basque electoral politics is helped by its position in the centre of the political spectrum. Its moderate nationalist tone appeals to the bulk of Basques who are proud of their identity although not necessarily separatist or fluent in Euskara. It is nationalist enough to appeal to the more nationalist of Basque nationalists, but moderate enough as to not alienate moderate nationalists/regionalists. The PNV has been the largest party in all general elections except for 1993 and 2008, with support between 23% and 34% in general elections.
Crucial to the PNV’s institutional dominance of Euskadi is its control of the Basque regional government and the regional presidency, lehendakari, between its 1980 creation and 2011. The PNV won the first regional elections in 1980 and won all other regional elections since then (though it did not win the most seats in 1986). Its hegemony was first challenged in 1986 when the then-lehendakari, Carlos Garaikoetxea quit the party and created his left-wing splinter, EA, which won 15.8% and 13 seats in 1986, while the PNV suffered a rout with merely 23.6% against 22% for the PSE. But the PNV’s José Antonio Ardanza was able to create a stable governing coalition with the Socialists until 1998 while EA (and HB)’s support gradually weakened. In 2001, an anti-nationalist front of the PP and PSE fell flat on its face as Juan José Ibarretxe’s PNV-EA won record-high levels of support (42.4%). It was only in 2009, with a stronger-than-ever Socialist party against a very divisive Ibarretxe PNV government that the non-nationalists finally broke through. Though the PNV’s support held tight, the PSE won a record-high 30.7% and 25 seats, which, alongside 13 PP deputies, allowed the PSE’s Patxi López to become the first non-nationalist lehendakari in Basque history. His days may be counted, however, given the collapse in support for both PSE and PP in the 2011 elections. The non-nationalists were helped in 2009 by two factors: firstly, for the first time in Basque regional elections, there was no abertzale list linked to Batasuna therefore Batasuna called on its supporter to cast blank ballots (9% of voters did so) but blank votes are not counted in seat allocation. Secondly, each of the three provinces in the Parliament are represented by 25 members, regardless of population. This equal representation serves to massively overrepresent (by over 10 seats) the strongly non-nationalist province of Álava-Araba at the expense mainly of the PNV stronghold of Biscay. In 2009, if the provinces had seats based on population, Ibarretxe could have won reelection with the support of PNV, Aralar, EA and EBB deputies.
Because of its thirty-one year stint in power in Vitoria, the PNV has tended to confuse government institutions with party institutions. It has shaped Basque politics and institutions to its liking, for example with control over the Basque media (the EITB). Beyond that, the PNV is more than a regular party. Especially in smaller towns, it is also something of a social organization and its local offices, batzokis, serve as bars or hang-outs for party members. In rural areas, PNV members are a tightly-knit family with a sense of community unusual in most parties.
PNV support is highest in Biscay, the birthplace of the party and the province where it has exercised full institutional control since the transition (control of Bilbao and the provincial government since 1979). Its support in rural, Basque-speaking villages in eastern Biscay often reaches upwards of 60% and up and beyond 70% in good years. It is traditionally weak, however, in the working-class industrial hinterland of Bilbao’s left bank in large towns such as Barakaldo, Portugalete or Santurtzi. Language is a major determining factor in making one a Basque nationalist or not, but it is by no means the only indicator nor is it perfect. A number of prominent PNV members and leaders either speak poor Basque or learned it only later in life. The PNV has high support even in those Biscayan and Alavan municipalities where few people speak Basque. The abertzale left is strongest in the province of Gipuzkoa, the most nationalist and most Basque-speaking province. The province has kept an industrial base of small or medium-sized businesses or family industries, and communities in the valleys are tightly knit together and have often provided a back base of support for ETA (especially during the dictatorship, when local priests – the Basque Church is nationalist – opened their doors to ETA fighters). Parties such as EA, HB or Bildu have been strongest in the province of Gipuzkoa. The provincial capital of Donostia-San Sebastián has been a battleground between PSE-EE, HB, EA and since recently Bildu. The southern province of Álava-Araba has long been the least nationalist, partly because the southern edges of the province in the Ebro valley have spoken Spanish since the Middle Ages and feel little if any connection to the Basque nationalist. The PNV can be the largest party in the province, but the largest city and Basque capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz is usually fought between PSE and PP, while the PP dominates in most of the Ebro valley in the south of the province. Between 1990 and 2001, Alavan opposition to Basque nationalism was notably expressed by the Unidad Alavesa (UA) party, similar to the Navarrese UPN: conservative, localist in an old Carlist way and anti-nationalist. UA won 18.5% of the votes in the province back in the 1994 elections, winning 5 seats in the Basque Parliament.
Lehendakari Patxi López called for early elections in August after PP leader Antonio Basagoiti decided to withdraw his support from the government. Patxi López, the first non-nationalist and non-peneuvista head of the Basque government, has been quite unpopular in the Basque Country. The main cause of his unpopularity seems to be his controversial deal with the PP, which came after he had promised that he would not sign such a deal. He is certainly reviled by almost all Basque nationalists (and others) after his counter-nature alliance of convenience with the PP. In Euskadi, the PP carries tons of negative baggage, not least the perception shared by most nationalists that it is the anti-Basque and ultra-centralist heir of the Franco regime.
On matters of governance, Patxi López has a fairly mixed record. The Basque economy itself is doing quite well compared to other regions in Spain (notably Catalonia), but mainly because of structural reasons unrelated to the government’s policies. The region’s economy, historically based around industry and manufacturing, suffered from particularly violent de-industrialization in the 1980s; but it has managed relatively well in the current Spanish economic crisis, a crisis wrought in large part by the utter collapse of the construction industry. Because the construction industry has never been as large in Euskadi as in other regions, particularly the coastal regions, the economic collapse post-2008 has been slightly less violent in the Basque Country. The local unemployment rate was 15.5% in the third quarter of 2012, which is the second lowest in the country (and 10% below the national rate). The fact that Euskadi, along with Navarra, benefits from an unusual fiscal arrangement (concierto económico) whereby it is the three provinces rather than the central administration which collects the taxes gives the region more control over its own fiscal policy and makes it less tied up to the economy of the other regions.
Despite a jobs market which is slightly less horrible than the rest of the country, the region’s debt has grown exponentially since 2009. The debt/GDP ratio stood at 2.2% when Patxi López took office in 2009, it has grown to 10.2% in the first quarter of 2012. This debt load, however, is still inferior to the national average of 13.5% (the combined debt of Spain’s 17 regions is equivalent to 13.5% of the Spanish GDP). The Basque government made some spending cuts, notably in health, education and public safety.
The Basque terrorist organization ETA announced a “definitive cessation of armed activity” in October 2011, an historic event which likely signals the end of the armed conflict in the Basque country. Nonetheless, the issue of ETA – particularly the fate of ETA’s prisoners in Spanish jails – remains a very controversial issue in Spain. With the end of the armed conflict, the Basque nationalist left – the abertzale left – has been allowed to enter the political arena once again. The Spanish law on political parties in 2002 had allowed Madrid to ban the various abertzale parties accused of having links to ETA or being pro-ETA. In 2011, however, the courts allowed the abertzale left to participate in the May local and then the November general elections. The coalitions of the abertzale left (Bildu in May, Amaiur in November) won 26% and 24% in the two elections in 2011. For these elections, the abertzale coalition – which includes EA, Alternatiba, Sortu (widely considered as Batasuna’s political front) – took the label Euskal Herria Bildu (Basque Country Together). Its candidate for lehendakari was Laura Mintegi, a Basque nationalist author and university professor.
On the left, the local United Left (IU) suffered a major split in March 2012. Up until that point, IU (which is experiencing a huge upswing in support in Spain) was known locally as EB-B (Ezker Batua-Berdeak, United Left-Greens), and it had some success in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, EB-B was hurt badly by the legalization of the abertzale left, which took a lot of its support. In the 2009 Basque elections, EB-B had already lost two of its three seats in the Basque Parliament. The split is due largely to an internal conflict between two leaders, Mikel Arana on one side and Javier Madrazo on the other. The latter, favouring a more independent relationship with the IU, regained control of EB-B and broke ties with the IU. The former, favouring closer ties with IU, created Ezker Anitza (EA), which has become the local federation of the IU.
Patxi López’s top rival during the campaign and the favourite in all polls was the PNV, and its candidate for lehendakari, Iñigo Urkullu. Urkullu is the leader of the PNV, and his nomination as candidate for head of the regional government breaks with established historical tradition in the PNV which has always had a fairly strict separation between party leadership and the regional presidency. In contrast to his predecessor as the PNV’s candidate for lehendakari, former lehendakari Juan José Ibarretxe (1999-2009), Urkullu strikes a markedly more moderate and less divisive tone. Ibarretxe, especially after his controversial “Ibarretxe Plan” for reforming the statute of autonomy, was a very divisive and somewhat confrontational figure who alienated many non-nationalists which clearly nationalistic and identity-based rhetoric. Urkullu, who is slightly to the right of Ibarretxe, also tacks back to the PNV’s more moderate brand of nationalism.
In this campaign, even if the PSE-EE and especially the PP’s campaigns warned against the PNV’s alleged “hidden agenda” about sovereignty, Urkullu seemed to put the issue on the backburner. The PNV campaign was focused heavily on the economy and job creation, citing the economic crisis as its top priority. It did not completely sideline the issues of independence, but was infinitely vague about what it entailed. Urkullu has set 2015 as the date for the definition of a new statute of autonomy, although it is unclear whether he intends a piecemeal reform of the 1979 statute based on “bilateral relations” or some ambitious sovereignist scheme akin to Ibarretxe’s Plan. He has used language such as “21st century independence” and the PNV’s manifesto hinted at some kind of “devo-max”, vowing to fight for the devolution of more and more powers from Madrid.
In contrast, Patxi López focused his campaign on defending self-government within Spain against Mariano Rajoy’s austerity policies and upholding the welfare state. The Socialists attempted to paint Urkullu and the PNV (a centre-right party) as right-wingers who would implement austerity similar to Rajoy’s very unpopular austerity policies.
Turnout was 63.73%, down from 64.68%. The (slight) decrease in turnout is rather interesting, given that the legalization of the abertzale left had led to a fairly significant increase in turnout in 2011 (when it decreased slightly nationwide). Turnout did nonetheless increase, albeit marginally, in Gipuzkoa, the abertzale stronghold. It must be said, however, that in the 2009 election, a lot of abertzale supporters had actually turned out to vote: since their party was banned, they accounted for the 101 thousand (nearly 9%) of “votos nulos” (null/invalid votes). Results were as follows:
EAJ-PNV 34.63% (-3.93%) winning 27 seats (-3)
EH Bildu 25% (+15.28%) winning 21 seats (+16)
PSE-EE 19.13% (-11.57%) winning 16 seats (-9)
PP 11.73% (-2.37%) winning 10 seats (-3)
IU-LV (EA) 2.72% (+2.72%) winning 0 seats (nc)
UPyD 1.94% (-0.21%) winning 1 seat (nc)
EB-B 1.56% (-1.95%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Equo 1.05% (+0.51%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Escaños en blanco 1.03% (+1.03%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 1.21% (+0.5%) winning 0 seats (nc)
The PNV, as widely expected, emerged as the winner. With 34% of the vote, it held its ground fairly well, considering the circumstances. On these results, Iñigo Urkullu will be the next lehendakari. It is quite unlikely that he will create a formal coalition with any party: a deal with the PSE would have been possible in the 1990s, but relations between the two parties have become quite acrimonious in recent years; a deal with EH Bildu would prove controversial and probably too difficult and unworkable for both involved. Instead, Urkullu has indicated that he will form a minority government which will seek support from other parties on a case-by-case basis. He has made conciliatory gestures towards all parties, and has touted the possibility of an legislative agreement (like the 2009 PSE-PP deal) with some parties (maybe EH Bildu). He seeks broad agreements and consensus on some major issues, and has already arranged to meet other parties to work out some kind of economic pact to deal with the crisis.
The PSE-EE suffered a very bad defeat. Not quite a record-breaking crushing defeat, but nevertheless a very damaging result for a party which had been rather successful, between 2004 and 2009, in increasing its level of support in Euskadi. It was a combination of different factors which sunk the Socialist vessel in Euskadi: Patxi López’s unpopularity, the controversial deal with the PP in 2009 and the nationwide collapse of the Socialist brand with the economic crisis. Patxi López’s record in government was judged, by most Basque voters, to be fairly mediocre and unspectacular.
The collapse of the national PSOE into a hapless state of disrepair since 2010/2011 likely played a role in this election. After losing the 2011 general election in a landslide to Rajoy’s PP, the PSOE strategy was apparently to bet everything on the rapid collapse of the PP’s popularity (with the economic crisis/depression and the austerity policies) in the hope that the PSOE would quickly regain those voters it had lost in 2011 (as they punished the PSOE for Zapatero’s economic policies during the early crisis). One could say it was a fairly sound strategy, given that such scenarios often happen, and certainly the first part of their calculation did happen very quickly – Rajoy’s government is extremely unpopular, and large majorities of voters reject his stringent austerity measures.
However, the PSOE failed to take into account that it has a huge credibility problem with the wider electorate. Voters seem particularly unforgiving, and they haven’t forgotten that the PSOE, in power, implemented many of the same kind of austerity policies which it now fights tooth-and-nail against. The PSOE’s message in opposition has been anti-austerity, but voters still associate the PSOE with austerity and the PSOE’s leader, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, doesn’t really help matters for them considering he was a top bigwig in Zapatero’s old cabinet.
As for Patxi López, his political career is probably not over just yet. While he is unpopular, right now, in Euskadi; his image in the rest of Spain still seems to be quite positive. He has been talked about as a potential candidate for Prime Minister for the PSOE in the next general election, and it is unlikely that this defeat will put a full stop to that speculation. He has already indicated that he will not be stepping down as the leader of the PSE-EE.
The PSE-EE lost votes to other parties, but also a good number of its voters to abstention (the first explanation for the small decrease in turnout). It likely lost some votes to the PP and PNV, some voters might have voted strategically for the moderate PNV to keep out the more radical EH Bildu. However, it probably lost a good number of supporters to abstention. It is hard to quantify how many they might have lost, but there seems to have been a two-way street: some nationalists who did not vote in 2009 turned out this year and swelled EH Bildu’s ranks; while some PSE and PP voters from 2009 abandoned their parties in favour of abstention.
The PSE’s collapse was such that the PNV placed ahead of the PSE in some of the party’s traditional bases, including Bilbao’s working-class Left Bank (Barakaldo, Sestao, Trapagarán, Basauri); although in these cases it was due to the PSE’s collapse since 2009 rather than any PNV inroads.
EH Bildu, like Bildu in May 2011 and Amaiur in November 2011, is the big winner of this election. 25% (and 21 seats) places its performance about on par with that of the abertzale coalitions last year, but it is far superior to any of the results won by the political arm of ETA (HB) in yesteryears. HB peaked at roughly 18-20% in its best years, it won 17.9% and 14 seats in the 1998 regional elections (right after an ETA ceasefire) and 18% in the 1990 regional elections. Once again, it is clear that the abertzale has expanded its appeal beyond the traditional its pro-etarra base to non-violent left-nationalists. As the 1998 and 2001 regional elections proved, the abertzale‘s electoral appeal is greater in peacetime conditions when ETA is silent (in the 2001 elections, after ETA had broken its 1998 ceasefire, Batasuna collapsed to 10%). This year seems no different. The silencing of ETA in 2010, followed by the permanent ceasefire in 2011, has significantly expanded the appeal of the newly legalized abertzale left.
This year, EH Bildu’s campaign hit all the right notes for the present context. It has distanced itself from ETA and violence, even if ETA victims decry their “blank slate” attitude (how can the former supporters and enablers of violence be receiving so much support and heaps of praise?, they ask) and the abertzale‘s hurry to shut the door on the past. Regardless, the end of political violence in Euskadi and the slow creation a freer political climate where fear and the risk of intimidation is much lesser, has opened up a wide door for the abertzale left. Left-wingers, left-nationalists and other leftists who had in the past rejected ETA’s violence have jumped onto the abertzale‘s bandwagon. In this campaign, EH Bildu de-emphasized, to a certain extent, the issue of separatism/independence in favour of a bread-and-butter discourse tailored to the contemporary socio-economic context. Observers noted how EH Bildu’s electoral meetings were closer to anti-capitalist rallies than traditional separatist rallies. The party talked about social policies, the economy, food sovereignty and other issues of particular relevance to a region with over 15% unemployment.
There has been, in some ways, an increase in Basque nationalism in Euskadi in recent years, though still nothing compared to what’s going on in Catalonia now. The idea that Euskadi would be better off without Madrid given how badly the rest of Spain is doing is gaining supporters. Nevertheless, the percentage of Basques who actually support the independence of a Basque nation-state is fairly low, certainly much lower than the 60% polled by the PNV and EH Bildu.
In the 2009 elections, Aralar and EA, two component parties of EH Bildu, won 6.03% and 3.69% respectively. However, an additional 100,939 votes were considered “invalid”, around 95-96k of them were cast for Batasuna’s illegal political front (D3M). Taking these invalid votes into account, the abertzale left (plus EA and Aralar) won in the vicinity of 17-17.5% of the vote in the 2009 election. Therefore, assuming that all Aralar, EA and Batasuna voters from 2009 voted from EH Bildu this year, you still have a very significant gain for the abertzale coalition since 2009, at least +8%. EH Bildu gained some votes from other parties and non-voters. It took some votes from PNV in all three provinces and probably took a few votes from PSE, considering the (limited) coincidence between the two parties in some cases.
EH Bildu’s performance in the abertzale stronghold of Gipuzkoa was quite underwhelming. It won 32.2%, basically tied with the PNV (32%), when it had won 35% (against 22% for the PNV) last November in the general elections. Many have ascribed EH Bildu’s poor result in the province to the party’s unpopular administration of the province (it controls the provincial government/legislature, the Juntas Generales). In Donostia-San Sebastián, one of the abertzale coalition’s major gains in May 2011, EH Bildu placed third (with 22%) behind the PNV and the PSE.
The PP suffered a pretty bad result, its worst result in a regional election since 1990. It is clearly a disappointing result for the Basque PP’s leader, Antonio Basagoiti, who was likely hoping for a slightly better performance by his party. This poor result might weaken his hold on the party’s leadership, some of the most right-wing figures of the local PP, such as former interior minister Jaime Mayor Oreja, had already showed their displeasure with some of his more moderate positions. The local PP bore the brunt of Rajoy’s unpopularity. It appears as if the PP lost middle and working-class votes to abstention, but maintained its strong results in Euskadi’s wealthiest neighborhoods and municipalities. On the other hand, the PP might have regained at least some of the votes it lost to the PSE and UPyD in the 2009 election.
What does the future hold for Euskadi? Urkullu gives signs that he will be a fairly pragmatic and moderate lehendakari, especially when it comes to the issue of independence. It is fairly ironic that Catalan nationalism, usually noted for its moderation in contrast to Euskadi’s more radical (and violent) brand of nationalism, is now taking the more “radical” path following the huge Diada on September 11 and with Mas’ bid to force a referendum after the 26-N regional elections. Dealing with Catalonia, where nationalism is clearly on an upswing because of the region’s precarious fiscal and economic position and its battle with the central government, will probably be Mariano Rajoy’s biggest headache. The Basque situation seems rather calmer. Urkullu has noted that the situation between Catalonia and Euskadi is different, despite the Basque PP’s insistence that there was a “secret pact” between the PNV and CiU. He is unlikely to make much waves, and even his reform of the statute planned for 2015 seems fairly moderate, in sharp contrast to Ibarretxe’s confrontational and divisive Plan. It does remain to be seen what Urkullu entails when he talks about “21st century independence”, but the PNV has never really sought traditional independence as a nation-state but rather some kind of quite novel “multi-layered sovereignty”.
On economic issues, the PNV has indicated that some cuts will need to be made. Urkullu proved quite lucid by saying that cuts and “efforts” will be necessary, but at the same time he talks about “defending the welfare state” and other vague rhetoric, similar to the one used by Rajoy in 2011 (we all know how far that went).
The Parliament of Galicia (Parlamento de Galicia) has 75 members, elected by province through d’Hondt closed party-list PR with a 5% threshold by province. A Coruña elects 24 members, Pontevedra elects 22, Lugo elects 15 and Ourense elects 14. The two smallest provinces are slightly over-represented at the expense of the two most populous provinces. The PP regional government backtracked on a controversial electoral reform before the election.
My Guide, noted above, included a profile of Galicia as well:
Galicia is one of the country’s most geographically isolated regions, located north of Portugal in northwestern Spain. It is notably the only region where a majority of the population usually speaks another language than Spanish. Galicia has a population of 2,794,516 (INE 2011). The capital of Galicia is Santiago de Compostela but the largest cities are Vigo and A Coruña. The community is composed of the provinces of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra.
Galicia is the mythical home of Breogán, a Celtic king and Galicia’s first inhabitants were Celtic (Gallaeci people). That is why Galicia is sometimes considered to be part of a broader alliance of Celtic nations, though the Gallaeci and their language have long since disappeared and the current Galician language is certainly not a Celtic language. In 411, Galicia fell to the Suevis who established their own state, independent of the Visigoths (until 584) even after the Visigothic conquest of Iberia in 416. Galicia was invaded by the Moors during the Muslim conquest, but never came under permanent Muslim control and was rather a thorny backwoods for the Muslims who made armed incursions into Galicia every few hundred years. In the confusing dynastic games of Christian Spain during the early Reconquista, the Kingdom of Galicia alternated between independence, Asturo-Leonese control or Castilian hegemony. Unlike Euskadi or Catalonia, Galicia’s two “sister nationalities” in Spanish political-lingo, Galicia is marked by an early and complete integration into the Castilian realm though its integration was originally a bit problematic (revolts and so forth). Galicia became a poor and isolated region in Spain, distant and poorly connected to the centres of industry or power. The mountains of eastern Galicia, poor communications, small landholdings and the power of the Catholic Church made economic development difficult and also prevented the development of a common “national myth” or “national ideal”. Poor and isolated, Galicia became a land of emigration. Starting in the nineteenth century, Galicia’s share of the Spanish population would decline from 12% to just 6% today. Some Galicians left to find jobs within Spain such as in the steel plants of Bilbao, but most emigrated to South America (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have large Galician communities) or western Europe. The Galician diaspora can vote in Galician regional elections and their votes, roughly 12% of voters (in 2005) can be crucial in closely-fought elections. In the last elections, the diaspora vote gave the Socialists an additional seat at the right’s expense.
Galicia was a heavily agricultural region until the 1970s and still accounts for 6.7% of the region’s GDP today. Galicia has traditionally had some of the smallest landholdings (minifundios) in all of Spain. The minifundio agrarian system has impeded on the competitivity of Galician agriculture, and as such most agriculture in Galicia has historically barely been enough for a family’s subsistence. The small size of land has contributed to the region’s poverty and sub-development. Politically, poor communications and the small size of landholdings were favourable to the hegemony of the Catholic Church and to a general lack of political mobilization (Galicia is known for its low turnout levels). Livestock is the main agricultural activity in the region. Along the region’s rugged (but beautiful) coastline, fishing is the main employer. Galicia has the largest fishing fleet in Spain (over 50% in fact) and perhaps the largest fleet in Europe as well. Despite the historical dominance of agriculture, industry is strong in Galicia as well since the 1970s: it currently accounts for 16.4% of the region’s GDP. Shipbuilding is important in Ferrol (an old naval base and Franco’s home town) and Vigo. Textiles are the main industry around A Coruña and Arteixo, which is home to Inditex, the second largest textile company in Europe and owner of the world-famous Zara brand. Automobile manufacturing is important in Vigo, which has a large Peugeot-PSA plant. In recent years, banking and especially tourism have become major employers as well. Galicia remains rather poor, with a below-average GDP per capita of €20,343. Unemployment is 17.25%.
Galician nationalism emerged out of a cultural movement of artists and intellectuals in the late nineteenth century who re-discovered and popularized the Galician language, Galician culture and literature. Alfonso Castelao is perhaps the most famous of these intellectuals, and the most popular of them (also because of his republican political activities). During the Second Republic, a Galician nationalist party – the Partido Galeguista (PG) was founded though it never achieved much support, electing three members as part of the Popular Front in the 1936 elections. It was successful, however, in passing a Statute of Autonomy in June 1936 which proved stillborn a month later with the success of the coup in Galicia. After the Francoist regime, during which the use and expression of Galician culture and language was frowned upon, the Galician nationalist movement was divided into a plethora of feuding parties ranging from communists in the UPG-BNPG to centrist liberals in the refounded PG. A centrist liberal party created out of the remnants of the UCD in Galicia, the Coalición Galega, achieved some success in the 1980s peaking at 13% in the 1985 Galician elections. It was soon eclipsed by the BNG, the left-wing nationalist coalition which was at its roots a radical communist party led by the communist UPG but which ‘deradicalized’ upon absorption of smaller left-wing parties. The BNG is by far the largest Galician nationalist party, and the only nationalist party with representation in the regional legislature. A smaller centre-right coalition, Terra Galega (TEGA) won 1% in the 2009 elections but governs the city of Narón – the eight largest city in the region.
Galicia is the only region of Spain where a majority of the population usually speaks a language other than Spanish as their mother tongue. That language is Galician, a language separate from Portuguese since 1500 which is closer to Portuguese than Spanish but has been influenced rather considerably by Spanish through centuries of Castilian domination of Galicia. Galician is co-official alongside Spanish in Galicia. According to 2008 statistics, 89.15% of Galicians can speak Galician ‘a lot or considerably’ (moito and bastante) and 57.84% can write Galician ‘a lot or considerably’ (moito and bastante). Furthermore, 56.4% of Galicians usually speak only in Galician or more in Galician than in Spanish. The use and knowledge of the language is higher in rural coastal areas and inland but is much lower in urban areas and with younger Galicians. The proximity of the language to Portuguese is a point of political debate. Galicia’s political elites and the PP defends the idea of Galician as an independent language, while nationalists are more ‘reintegrationist’ and see Galician as a regional variant of Portuguese and not as a separate language. The Galician government has traditionally been far less ‘activist’ or aggressive in its promotion of the Galician language in public administration or education (though education is bilingual) than the Basque or Catalan governments.
Poverty, isolation and in majority non-Spanish by mother tongue, Galicia could appear to be a Socialist or nationalist stronghold. In fact, Galicia is a conservative stronghold and the only region in Spain in which the PSOE (known here as the PSdeG) has never been the largest party in any election. Despite the fact that most in the region speak Galician more often than Spanish, a nationalist ideology which requires a broad social base believing in their separate ‘national identity’ and a ‘national myth’ has never been capable of being more than a second party. The division of Galicia into tiny, poor and unproductive smallholdings has discouraged the growth of social movements such as nationalism (but also socialism and communism), while being quite favourable to domination by the Catholic Church, which, unlike in Euskadi and Catalonia (to a lesser extent), has never had any nationalist ideals. Unlike in Catalonia, the industrial bourgeoisie in Galicia is pro-Spanish and backed Franco’s regime. As for socialism or communism, smallholders in Spain (unlike in France, where they are long marked by anti-clericalism and republicanism) have always been devoutly Catholic and traditionally scared of the threat of ‘socialist collectivism’. As such, nationalism is strong in Galicia but has never been a dominant political ideology as in Euskadi and Catalonia; while socialism has never taken root in rural areas though urban workers are left-wing. The PCE has never been relevant, the best they’ve ever done is 4.7%.
The UCD won three elections, and the PP has won all other elections in Galicia since then. The PSdeG has never been the largest party in Galicia and has only been the largest party in the province of A Coruña a handful of times. Galicia has also produced some pretty famous Spanish conservative leaders: Franco (of course) but also Manuel Fraga, the founder of AP; and Mariano Rajoy. In Galicia, even the PP has taken on some nationalist symbolism. Fraga campaigned in Galician and emerged as a forceful voice for a strong, autonomous Galicia within a united Spain. There are signs, however, that urban growth (cities being quite left-wing) is favourable in the long-term to Socialists. They came within 3.25% of winning the region in 2008, the closest they’ve ever been to the right in a general election (the PSOE was 10 points behind the PP in 2004). In 2008, the PP won 44.32% against 41.07% for the PSdeG-PSOE, 11.63% for the BNG and 1.39% for the IU. Rural, sparsely populated inland or coastal areas are the main bases of the right in Galicia. The left is strongest in urban areas, most notably in A Coruña, Ferrol, Vigo, Arteixo, Lugo, Ourense or Pontevedra. Santiago de Compostela is more right-leaning, though it was governed by the PSdeG for 24 years between 1987 and 2011. A Coruña was governed by the Socialists between 1983 and 2011.
The AP won the first regional elections in 1981 with 26 seats against 24 for the UCD. The first two legislatures were marked by infighting within the AP and political divisions on the right, which allowed the Socialists to take power mid-stream in 1987. In this context of division on the right, Manuel Fraga, the founder of the AP and by now the driving force in the refoundation of the Spanish right as the PP, decided to abandon his political ambitions in Madrid in favour of his native homeland. As the PP’s candidate in the 1989 Galician elections, Fraga won an absolute majority and defeated the incumbent centre-left coalition. In 1993 he increased his majority and the PP held on to its absolute majority in the 1993, 1997 and 2001 elections while the PSdeG was in state of disrepair after falling behind the BNG in 1997 and again in 2005. However, Fraga’s leadership was criticized in 2002 during the Prestige oil spill during which he and Aznar sat on their hands doing little in response. In 2005, the PP fell to 37 seats – one less than the absolute majority while the PSdeG increased its support considerably from 17 to 25 seats while the BNG fell from 17 to 13 seats. The Socialist Emilio Pérez Touriño formed a coalition government with the BNG, led by the more radical Anxo Quintana. In 2009, however, the PP, now led by Rajoy ally Alberto Núñez Feijoo won an extra seat (at the BNG’s expense, the Socialists held all their seats) and thus reconquered its historic stronghold. The Galician legislature over-represents the sparsely populated and more conservative inland provinces of Lugo and Ourense at the expense of Pontevedra and A Coruña which concentrate the vast majority of the Galician population. In the 2011 local elections, the PP showed its strength in the province of A Coruña with its historic conquests of A Coruña, Ferrol and Santiago. But in Vigo, Pontevedra, Lugo and Ourense it proved unable to topple Socialist-BNG (or, in Pontevedra, BNG-Socialist) coalitions. In fact, in all those cities, the governing party be it the PSdeG or BNG all increased their support. A sign of a slow evolution of the impenetrable stronghold of Spanish conservatism towards the left?
Alberto Núñez Feijóo called for early elections. Feijóo faced fairly tough circumstances: an unpopular national PP government and the terrible economic situation, while he himself was defending a very narrow absolute majority in the Galician legislature. This was a very high-stakes deal for the national PP, which had suffered an unwelcome cold shower in regional elections in Andalusia in the spring, elections which were hailed as the first sign that the PP’s post-election honeymoon was already falling apart. The PP wanted and needed to retain its hold on its traditional Galician stronghold, and this likely explains why Feijóo called for a snap election: he felt confident that the PP could take advantage of nationalist disunity and the local Socialists’ (PSdeG) corruption problems.
Feijóo is a key ally of Mariano Rajoy, and the austerity policies which the Xunta has implemented in Galicia since 2009/2010 have served as a “model” for Rajoy’s austerity measures. In Galicia, Feijóo has a somewhat “strong” record to stand on – again, compared to other regions. The region’s debt is high, at 12.8% of GDP, but is below the national average (13.5%) and while it has gone up since 2009, it has not increased as quickly as in other regions. Unemployment is 20.1% in Galicia, below the national rate of 25%, and it decreased in the third quarter of 2012 (from 21.1% in the second quarter). While the Xunta was dinged by El País for allegedly dressing up its debt level (a favourite activity for many regional governments in Spain), the PP received a major boost late in the campaign when Mexico’s oil monopoly PEMEX kind of confirmed that it would invest 247 million euros in the construction of an industrial complex in Galicia (Vigo and Ferrol) for storage, shipment and deliveries of oil industry liquids. The PP claims that this investment, which it has welcome in grandiose manner, will create over 2,500 jobs in Galicia.
Aware of the unpopularity of the central government and the national PP, Feijóo distanced himself somewhat from the national party during the campaign. His party notably released posters which minimized the PP’s logo, he campaigned on a Galicia Primeiro (Galicia First) slogan.
The opposition, which governed between 2005 and 2009, was going through dire straits when Feijóo called the election to take advantage of their problems. The Socialists (PSdeG) were divided and hit hard by a corruption probe (Operación Pokémon) which notably forced the resignation of the PSdeG mayor of Ourense.
The main Galician nationalist party, the left-wing BNG, was hit even harder by internal divisions. Trouble had been brewing in the fractious and heterogeneous coalition of parties which is the BNG, particularly between the current leadership formed and backed by the post-communist nationalist UPG and the old leader of the BNG, Xosé Manuel Beiras and his faction (Encontro Irmandiño). In the 1990s, Beiras, a famous Galician author, had led the BNG out of electoral oblivion to a high of 18 seats (and second place) in the 1998 regional elections. After his departure from the BNG’s leadership, the party’s electoral fortunes took a slow downwards trend: 17 seats in 2001, 13 in 2005 and 12 in 2009.
At a BNG congress earlier this year, the UPG coalition led by Guillerme Vázquez and Francisco Jorquera narrowly defeated an opposition slate led by Beiras and other factions. Following this congress, Beiras’ faction walked out and created a new political party, ANOVA. Other factions, largely the centrist factions, joined other smaller groupings in creating a more centrist nationalist coalition, Compromiso por Galicia (CxG). Ahead of the elections, Beiras’ bunch, ANOVA, joined up with the local IU (EU), led by Yolanda Díaz, to form a common list: Alternativa Galega de Esquerda (AGE, Galician Left Alternative). The EU has always been an also-ran in very conservative Galicia, it peaked at 2.9% in the 1981 regional elections and won only 1% in the last elections in 2009.
Turnout was 63.8%, down from 64.43% in 2009. There was a surprisingly high level of invalid votes (2.55%) and blank votes (2.69%). The results were as follows:
PPdeG 45.72% (-0.96%) winning 41 seats (+3)
PSdeG 20.53% (-10.49%) winning 18 seats (-7)
AGE (EU-ANOVA) 13.99% (+13.02%) winning 9 seats (+9)
BNG 10.16% (-5.85%) winning 7 seats (-5)
UPyD 1.48% (+0.07%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Escaños en blanco 1.19% (+1.19%) winning 0 seats (nc)
SCD 1.1% (+1.1%) winning 0 seats (nc)
CxG 1.01% (-0.10%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.02% (+0.89%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Feijóo’s PP defied expectations and was reelected, not only securing its thin absolute majority won in 2009 but expanding its majority by picking up three extra seats. The PP did lose nearly 1% off of its 2009 result, equivalent to 135,493 votes. Feijóo’s victory is a significant victory for the national PP and the Rajoy cabinet, given how crucial these elections turned out to be for the national PP. In his victory speech, Feijóo even mentioned Rajoy – saying that his victory would have been impossible if voters had not felt that Rajoy was “governing responsibly” and that the “efforts” and “difficulties” it demanded were not for a “good cause”. That being said, Feijóo’s big victory owes a lot to the division and shabby state of his two traditional opponents (the PSdeG and the BNG) and his management of the region rather than to any Galician plebiscite in favour of Rajoy’s austerity measures. Nevertheless, as the centre-left daily El País argued, the results in Galicia will serve as an “encouragement” to Rajoy’s austerity policies.
The Galician PP was able to motivate its electorate to turn out, and the PP’s rural base stuck with Feijóo; compensating for fairly significant PP loses in some urban areas – A Coruña, Vigo, Pontevedra and Ourense. It was able to stave off a minor threat in the SCD, a new centre-right party led by Mario Conde, a former banker who recently got out of jail for embezzlement.
The real winner of these elections was Xosé Manuel Beiras’ new left-nationalist coalition, AGE, which defied all expectations and won a spectacular result, placing third – ahead of the BNG – and taking nearly 14% of the vote. The new left-nationalist coalition, which has been styled the “Galician Syriza” (a reference to Greece’s left-wing anti-austerity coalition which is now the embattled country’s largest opposition party), seized on the climate of social and economic discontent prevalent in Spain. Beiras’ coalition placed emphasis on socio-economic rather than traditional nationalist themes, taking clear anti-capitalist tones and calling for the reconstruction of society. In doing so, it not only seized a sizable part of the traditional BNG nationalist electorate, but also fed off the PSdeG’s collapse. The PSdeG’s collapse was particularly big in Galicia’s major cities, where AGE performed best: 20.6% and second place in A Coruña, 21.8% and second place in Santiago de Compostela, 20.2% in Ferrol and 19.5% in Vigo.
AGE was helped by Beiras’ well-known charismatic figure, which transformed him into Feijóo’s most vocal opponent. His success should be a major cause for concern for the PSdeG, which was the clear loser of the elections. The party, which had maintained its high level of support (from the 2005 election) in the 2009 ballot, lost over a third of its 2009 votes and collapsed to only 20.5% and 18 seats. The PSdeG was clearly affected by Operación Pokémon, but also by internal divisions and uncertain leadership in a party which is used to fractious relations and internal divisions. Again, Feijóo’s decision to call a snap election in October rather than next spring (as scheduled) was clearly calculated and he wanted to seize on the PSdeG’s troubles. The early election caught the Socialists off guard, and even if they managed to patch their lists together and unite behind its leader, Pachi Vázquez, it was not without some trouble. The PSdeG’s campaign, which wanted to turn the Galician election into a referendum over Rajoy’s policies, was not up to par with Feijóo and Beiras’ campaigns. Even Rubalcaba admitted after the fact that the reason why the PSdeG did so badly is that they failed to present a strong “alternative” to the PP. Again, the hapless Pachi Vázquez certainly did not measure up to either Feijóo or Beiras. The PSdeG’s decrepitude plunges the party into uncertain waters, not unlike the terrible situation the party went through in the late 1990s.
The AGE’s success has also plunged the BNG into uncertain waters. The BNG’s leadership has resigned, and it has called for “unity”, “reflection” and “change”. It is likely too early to say what is the future of the Galician nationalist movement after this election, especially given the BNG’s paltry fourth place showing behind the new coalition of its former leader.
The AGE’s result is quite interesting. It was boosted by local factors, first and foremost Beiras’ charisma and the troubles of both the PSdeG and BNG, but it is undeniable that AGE’s success could have national implications, primarily for the PSOE. Once again, with this result and the PSE’s result in Euskadi, the Socialists are the clear losers of these two elections. The party must wake up to the fact that it faces a clear credibility crisis, and its old voters are not buying into the party’s new-found distaste for austerity. Spanish politics as a whole have been shaken up by the economic crisis, both the PP and PSOE are increasingly discredited in the eyes of voters, and the succession of unpopular austerity measures have created a profound social malaise in the country. Voters are losing trust in traditional parties, and are turning to the IU, UPyD, regional parties or minor parties (notice the success in both regions of Escaños en blanco, which wants a recognition of invalid votes in the form of vacant seats); they are also losing trust in the country’s democratic institution. Both the PP and PSOE seem rather oblivious to this situation, or they are at the very least very much unable to confront it (certainly the PP has its hands tied up with the crisis and the wider Eurozone crisis).
Rubalcaba’s leadership of the PSOE will be shaken up a bit by these defeats, probably even more if the PSC does very poorly in Catalonia on 26-N. He has already said that he would go if the party told him to go, though he is not resigning just yet. The PSOE has been unable to profit at all from the PP’s collapse.
All eyes in Spanish politics are set on Catalonia, which holds a snap election November 26. Very interesting things are going on in Catalonia, and it is aligning to become one of Mariano Rajoy’s biggest headaches in the future. The regional president, Artur Mas, has taken a surprisingly confrontational and nationalist attitude, no doubt because of the difficult economic situation in which Catalonia finds itself. He wants to call a referendum of some kind, and he hopes to receive a strong popular mandate for his nationalist agenda from the voters on November 26. Polls indicate that Mas’ centre-right CiU will make gains, though it is uncertain whether he will be able to win an absolute majority in Parliament.