Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Partido Popular Won Big In Spanish Local Elections

Nicholas Zalewski
Partido Popular Received the most votes of any party in the election. Source: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

This month has been full of elections for Europe. This past Sunday Spain held its local elections. Voters were able to vote for mayoral candidates in 8,131 municipalities and in 12 out of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions Partido Popular (People’s Party) finished strongly which many believe is a sign of the party potentially winning the parliamentary election later this year. The current Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that the parliamentary election which has to be held by December of this year will be held early on July 23rd due to the local election results. PSOE lost voters in strongholds such as Andalusia, where they lost 7 of the 8 provincial capitals.  

Candidates Get Their Hands Dirty

The campaigns before the election were marred by scandal. One of the scandals includes the kidnapping of a city council member. What may seem like the plot of a movie actually occurred in Maracena, a town of 20,000 residents located in the autonomous community of Andalusia. Vanessa Romero was kidnapped at gunpoint on February 21st after dropping off her kids at school and was locked in the trunk of a car for hours. Her kidnapper was quickly identified and is the ex-boyfriend of the mayor of Maracena. He claimed the mayor of Maracena was involved in the kidnapping as well. Days before the election it was announced that the secretary of the party of PSOE in Andalusia was being investigated for his potential involvement in the kidnapping, who is considered to be the second most important member of the party in the region. An interesting aspect of this entire ordeal is that Vanessa Romero is also a member of the PSOE party.

Besides this, there have been accusations of PSOE organizing a vote-buying campaign while PP allegedly has been supplanting the digital signatures of voters in the town of Villalba del Alcor. PSOE is suspicious of the fact that 26 votes are connected to the residence of a current PP council member of the town while 21 votes are connected to the address of an ex-council member who was part of PP. Melila, one of Spain’s two cities located in North Africa also had reports of poor families being offered between 50 and 200 euros for their votes. PSOE and PP exchanged jabs over the vote-buying scandal as this there have been allegations of vote-buying in areas controlled by the PSOE and others controlled by the PP.

Return To A Two-Party System

While smaller parties have been key to forming ruling coalitions in Spain, their power is currently waning and the competition in elections is predominantly becoming between PSOE and PP once again. Prior to this election Podemos and Ciudadanos. In the autonomous region of Madrid and the city of Madrid, the President of the Region Isabel Díaz Ayuso and Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida won majorities in the local elections for PP and will be able to govern without forming coalitions. Ciudadanos and Podemos did not win a single seat at the city or regional level.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announces the parliamentary election will be held on July 23rd. Source: Keystone

PSOE Loses Steam

One source of anger amongst the right in Spain was Prime Minister Sanchez’s decision to decriminalize sedition. In addition, Sanchez pardoned 9 separatist leaders who originally received prison sentences due to their involvement in Catalonia’s failed attempt at independence in 2017. Prime Minister Sanchez has also worked with separatist politicians from the Basque country and Catalonia to pass legislation due to PSOE not having a majority in Spain’s parliament. This led to massive protests in January which Sanchez accused right-wing parties of organizing. Right-wing politicians were angry about the change to the sedition law as they felt Sanchez did this to benefit himself in difficult votes on bills in parliament instead of focusing on what is best for Spain as a nation. As sedition is no longer punishable by law, this can cause leaders in Catalonia to try again in the near future or in the Basque country. Political analysts theorize that Sanchez is calling for early elections in July to prevent PP from gaining more support before the election.

Campaign poster for Autonomous Region of Madrid President Isabel Díaz Ayuso Source: Twitter

Partido Popular’s Internal Conflicts

PP has been polling higher than PSOE even before the local elections. No election however should be taken for granted and PP will need to be cautious going into the July 23rd parliamentary election. While Regional President Isabel Díaz Ayuso is a force to be reckoned with in the Autonomous Region of Madrid, she is seen as divisive nationwide. She has been compared to other divisive populist politicians such as Donald Trump.

Ayuso insists that EH Bildu, a coalition of political parties in Spain is not a descendant of ETA but is ETA itself. ETA was an armed terrorist organization that pushed for the independence of the Basque country, a region of Spain. ETA dissolved in 2018, 60 years after coming into existence. Ayuso however maintains ETA is very much a threat to Spain and its institutions. This directly contradicts Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the leader of PP. Ayuso wants EH Bildu to be banned which Feijóo says is not possible. This is a position that VOX has held and Ayuso previously criticized yet she says it is worth examining. The problem is that Ayuso does not know if it is even legally possible nor what legal process to take to ban EH Bildu. The general secretary of PP who is a lawyer herself has also made it clear that the legal team for the party has ruled out banning EH Bildu.

While the election may be disappointing for PSOE and Prime Minister Sanchez, it is clear that Spain must also address how to better secure its elections. All political parties must be committed to working together to make sound policy decisions that help improve Spain’s economy instead of trying to take advantage of financially struggling families by buying their votes. The integrity of elections has been a frequent theme worldwide and this election is no exception. Spanish politicians will need to find a way to stop votes from being bought. As both major parties seem to be responsible they cannot simply pass the blame to the other party.

Please Read The Following For More Information:

AFP, EFE, Reuters. “Thousands stage anti-government protest in Madrid” DW January 21, 2023.

Fátima Caballero and Aitor Riveiro. “Ayuso insiste en ilegalizar EH Bildu y la dirección de Feijóo lo descarta” elDiario.es May 18, 2023

“Imputado por el secuestro de una concejala el número dos del PSOE andaluz” COPE May 25, 2023

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by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min