The First Round of Elections is Complete

by Iñaki Galdos Irazabal

As we published in Basque Tribune this past February, 2019 is an important election year for Basques in the four provinces on the Spanish side, although the Basques from the French provinces will also vote in the European elections in May.

The first round this year occurred on April 28th, the day elections were held to choose Members of Congress and Senators representing the citizenship in the Spanish Parliament of Madrid, and leading to the appointment of the President of the Government. Let’s remember that Socialist Pedro Sánchez called for elections since he was in the minority and was having difficulties governing, specifically, obtaining budget approval.

Pedro Sánchez will continue to govern in Spain after his easy electoral victory.
Pedro Sánchez will continue to govern in Spain after his easy electoral victory. EFE / JJ.Guillén

A Huge Victory for Socialists in Spain

The first conclusion is that Sánchez and his party played their cards well since the Socialist Party, PSOE, has managed to greatly increase its representation in Congress, going from 84 to 123 members, so it can govern more easily. There are several reasons that explain such a convincing triumph, but above all is the fear of the far-right gaining ground.

In December 2018, elections were held in the region of Andalusia, where for the first time in history, the right now rules. An alliance of the three right-wing parties (PP, Ciudadanos and VOX) unseated the Socialist Government since their votes formed a majority in the Parliament. But what struck people’s attention the most was the substantial increase of VOX, the extreme right party.

This increase produced a shift towards more right-wing positions in the other two parties and began to spread concern through the public that the Andalusian alliance could be reproduced in the Spanish government. This gave the perfect opportunity to Pedro Sánchez to successfully activate resistance and much of the electorate came out to vote with the main objective of stopping this radicalized right-wing movement.

Right-wing Failure

Finally, the right has failed in its attempt and has left its main party (PP) in a deep crisis, as it has lost more than half of its Members of Congress (from 135 to 66) and millions of votes. The party’s movement further to the right hurt it badly, since part of its more moderate electorate has either opted for Cuidadanos or abstained. And part of its more right-wing electorate has chosen to emigrate to VOX.

Therefore, PP has lost votes on both sides. After elections they have announced a quick change of course towards the center and moderation, but it’s not clear that the electorate will believe this, because the May elections are very close. In addition, we must keep in mind that this party, which a few years ago was very much the majority in Spain, is being cornered in the courts by multiple cases of corruption.

Leaders of the Basque National Party celebrating their positive results
Leaders of the Basque National Party celebrating their positive results. EFE / Luis Tejido

Despite this burst of 24 Members of Congress (they had none before), the surveys predicted more strength for the VOX ultras, which has left them with a hint of bittersweet, but also in the hope that PP’s shift to the center can leave more vacant space as they face the future. As for Ciudadanos, which has also had a significant increase, it will compete with PP for the leadership of the Spanish center-right.

In the end, PSOE will be able to form a government with the help of Unidas Podemos, the leftist coalition that has lost quite a bit of support but still has an important representation, and some nationalist and regionalist parties.

The Basque Oasis

More big news on these elections was the behavior of the Basque electorate. Traditionally, when PSOE‘ has had significant victories in Spanish elections, the Basque nationalist parties have decreased in votes, because part of their electorate supported the Socialists to restrain the right-wing Spanish parties. This was the fear of PNV and EH Bildu this April, but this phenomenon did not take place. Socialism has risen substantially in the Basque provinces too, but it didn’t at the expense of nationalist parties, which have also had significant increases.

In the three provinces that form the Basque Autonomous Community, PNV has been the most successful party. It had never been in Araba in Spanish elections, although it has been in the Basque Country and in Provincial elections, and this time it happened. This party will have 6 seats (compared to 5 before) which are expected to be important since they could be potential allies of Pedro Sánchez. EH Bildu has also increased its representation from 2 to 4, obtaining second place in Gipuzkoa, maintaining one seat in Bizkaia and attaining one seat in Araba. The latter has been in the spotlight because this seat was overtaken from Javier Maroto, a PP leader and former mayor of Vitoria-Gasteiz. The Basque Autonomous Community is also the only one where none of the Spanish-right parties obtained any seats and the extreme right came out with its lowest results throughout Spain.

As far as Navarre is concerned, the right has repeated the two seats which were previously held by UPN (right-wing Spanish Navarre party) but in order for this to happen they’ve had to join with PP and Ciudadanos in a coalition that has only come together in Navarre. However, this time they have obtained fewer votes than they each had before separately. The Socialists, influenced by the Spanish tides, have also obtained two seats, although one of them won by a small margin and has been about to fall into the hands of EH Bildu. Unidas Podemos, lost one seat, leaving it with one.  

EH Bildu increased from 2 to 4 seats
EH Bildu increased from 2 to 4 seats. EFE / Javier Etxezarreta

The Future of Navarre

Given these results, it’s logical that some think that the government of change that came into power in 2015 will fall after the May 26th elections. Its components have obtained only one seat of 5. But the issue is not a simple one. On the one hand, EH Bildu has been about to get a seat and everyone agrees that in the local and regional elections of May this coalition will have even better results, among other factors, because it has substantial municipal power. It’s always been this way.

On the other hand, Geroa Bai, the coalition of the President of Navarra, Uxue Barkos, has not obtained any seats in Madrid, but has had a significant increase in voters. Uxue Barkos is the most valued politician in Navarre and thousands of its citizens, who in April have voted for other options with the aim of weakening the right-wing in Spain, will vote for the Geroa Bai Coalition (in which PNV is integrated) in the Navarre parliamentary elections. The dual vote should be powerful. It’s not known whether the forces of change will be able to produce a majority again, but it is clear that the April Spanish elections are not a very telling reference.

It is clear, therefore, that Basques will be watching Navarre closely on the night of May 26th. In the other provinces of the Southern Basque Country there are also some races at stake (the mayor of Vitoria and some other municipalities, the majority of the provincial Parliament of Gipuzkoa…) but nothing is as important as what will be played out in Navarre for the future.

While waiting for the second round, we conclude this first analysis, emphasizing that in Catalonia there has also been a phenomenon similar to that of the Basque Country. Socialism has risen, but not at the expense of nationalism, since Catalan independence has increased its strength and the party with the most votes has been ERC. The Spanish right has also failed there. Those who think that the Catalan problem can be solved with prisons, repression and denial of reality perhaps need to think again.

About the Author

Iñaki Galdos Irazabal
Iñaki Galdos Irazabal is editor at Basque Tribune. E-Mail | @inakigaldosira

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