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Elections in Andalusia seen as mid-term test for Sánchez

The upcoming elections in Andalusia come in a heated political time – both in this southern Spanish region and across the whole country. In the former, these elections have been forced after Cs (ALDE) broke its government agreement with centre-left PSOE (S&D) in Andalusia; meanwhile, the socialists have regained the head of the government in Madrid after six years of centre-right PP (EPP) cabinets. It is not surprising thus that this vote has been regarded as strategically crucial for the future movements in the Spanish political arena, only a year and a half before the deadline for a new general election in the country as a whole. The vote will take place on December 2nd, and polling stations will be open from 8:00 to 20:00 CET.

Background to Andalusian Politics

Andalusia has had, since the restoration of democracy in 1975, one of the most stable party systems in Spain. Centre-left PSOE has made seen Spain’s most populous region as a stronghold and has come first in number of votes in all elections since 1982 but one, even though later agreements with left-wing Izquierda Unida (GUE/NGL) allowed the party to retain power. Furthermore, their clear victories have required few post-electoral agreements, most of which have involved the regionalist Partido Andalucista (G/EFA) in the 1990s.

The 2015 elections were no exception, and PSOE leader Susana Díaz, who had not long before replaced José Antonio Griñán amid corruption accusations, finished above PP in 7 of the 8 provinces with the 35.3% of popular vote. PSOE thus obtained 47 of the total 109 seats, followed by PP at 33, Podemos (GUE/NGL) at 15, Cs at 9 and left-wing coalition IULV-CA (GUE/NGL) at 5. The entrance of left-wing Podemos and liberal Cs have significantly modified the two-party system in the region and ultimately led the latter to vote in favour of the Díaz presidency in the context of a stability pact.

The Candidates

Turning to the upcoming elections, PSOE is the clear favourite for achieving a majority big enough to form a new government. The “ERE” corruption scandal that involved former Andalusian presidents Manuel Chaves and Griñán, threatened to put an end to their upper hand in the region. However, Susana Díaz was able to avoid electoral losses and has provided relative political stability, as a result of her agreements with Cs. With an absolute majority unlikely, she has stated her preference for a minority government with occasional support (a confidence-and-supply style agreement). Both Cs’s and newly formed AdelanteAndalucía (GUE/NGL) will seek to be supporting partner in government. Diaz’s popularity seems not to have been affected by her failed challenge against Pedro Sanchez, now Prime Minister, for the national party leadership in 2017.

Juan Manuel Moreno will again be the centre-right People’s Party candidate after he managed to earn the confidence of PP’s national leadership even though he supported a losing candidate in last June’s dramatic leadership race. It is unlikely that he will be able to challenge PSOE hegemony, as close as his predecessor Javier Arenas was in 2012, when he came first in the popular vote. Instead, making some gains after losing a third of PP’s delegation in 2015 and not losing the second position to C’s are their big priorities for these elections.

Podemos and Izquierda Unida, which accounted for 21.6% of the total votes in last elections, will run under a single candidacy, Adelante Andalucía, in the December 2nd vote. These left-wing parties aim at achieving results as good as in other regions and the national parliament “Congress of Deputies”, where such alliances have been frequent and successful. Teresa Rodríguez’s leadership, much to the dislike of the mainstream group within Podemos headed by Pablo Iglesias, is very critical of Susana Díaz’s government in Andalusia and thus a similar grand left coalition such as the one we saw on the national level is highly unlikely. Rodriguez has suggested they will not join any PSOE-led cabinet.

The fourth key actor in this race will undoubtedly be Ciudadanos, where leader Juan Marín represents a less technocratic profile than other candidates, seen as being closer to civil society organizations and small enterprises. The agreement which Marín signed with Susana Díaz for the 2015-2018 government included genuine liberal policies such as their reform of income and inheritance taxes, a success he will surely claim during the upcoming campaign. As the liberal party structure in the region has grown much stronger compared to 2015, Cs aims at making big gains that allow them to come above PP, thus breaking PSOE-PP domination in Andalusia. 

The right-wing to far-right party VOX, which has connections to the national-conservative ECR group and the righ-wing ENF group in the European Parliament might for the first time ever enter the Andalusian Parliament.

Post-election Agreements

Of particular interest in a context of increased polarization and a multi-party system in Spanish politics is who PSOE, the likely winner of these elections, will prioritize its alliances with Cs. Discrepancies between Susana Díaz and Teresa Rodríguez are glaring: the anti-capitalist branch of Podemos that Rodríguez leads is highly critical of PSOE economic policy in Andalusia, frequently criticizing Diaz’s agreement with C’s and the abstention she promoted in Mariano Rajoy’s re-appointment in 2016. Conversely, the agreement reached by PSOE and Podemos nationally last May in the vote of no confidence against Mariano Rajoy seemed to signal a new trend in Spanish politics. In a much similar fashion to its neighbour Portugal, the centre-left and left alliance gained momentum and propelled PSOE in the polls, and Diaz may want to take advantage of the popularity of this coalition.

The People’s Party aspiration is to grow as the main opposition party and attempt to stop a new PSOE executive, but the key third actor to consider for possible alliances is Cs. Their agreement in Andalusia came in a context of increased cooperation between both parties, exemplified by their drafting of an agreement at the national level that ultimately failed to put Sánchez in Moncloa. Even though the context is now substantially different, a new agreement between Díaz and Marín is the most likely scenario after the elections; both have benefited from the last three years of stability in Andalusia. The only doubts have to do with how a new alliance of this sort will affect PSOE’s surge after their national left coalition, in a moment where the electorate sees Cs as increasingly moving to the right.

Europe Elects Coverage

Both PSOE-led alliances with Cs and Adelante Andalucía to re-elect Susana Díaz could pass the barrier of majority in the Andalusian parliament according to the latest polling. Furthermore, these show fewer changes than what one would expect: the lastest Celeste-Tel poll showed support at around 80% for the four big parties. PP will likely retain the 2nd position, with both AdelanteAndalucía (Podemos in 2015) and Cs closer than they were three years ago. PSOE is predicted to obtain a clear victory, although far from the absolute majorities they have achieved in the past.

Europe Elects will cover the polls published from November 18 onwards, including full coverage on election day.

Ignasi Subira is a data analyst for Europe Elects. His focus is on elections and referenda in the Netherlands and Spain. He is also a member of our executive team.