Madrid defeat spoils Spanish Socialists’ euphoria

Pedro Sánchez’s party dominates in elections but right takes the capital

Socialist party  candidate for European elections Josep Borrell and Spanish acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez address the media following election results at party headquarters in Madrid on May 27th. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

Socialist party candidate for European elections Josep Borrell and Spanish acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez address the media following election results at party headquarters in Madrid on May 27th. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

 

Spain’s electoral “Super Sunday” has strengthened the position of Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez as he attempts to form a new government.

As well as EU elections, Spain held votes in town halls across the country and in 12 of its 17 regions. The Socialists took 20 seats in the European Parliament, eight more than the conservative Popular Party (PP). They also won in 10 of the regions and there was a barrage of Socialist gains in town halls.

This follows Mr Sánchez’s win in last month’s general election and confirms that the Socialist Party, which took power last summer, is once again Spain’s primary political force. And yet, the left’s failure to impose itself in Madrid lent a bitter twist to the party’s celebrations.

Exit polls had suggested that the Socialists and their allies were on course to end 24 years of PP rule in the Madrid region. But the final result instead saw the right gather enough seats to remain in power. In a shock result that dealt a further blow to the left, Madrid city hall changed hands, with mayor Manuela Carmena falling short of a majority.

Disastrous performance

In the municipal elections, the PP lost one million votes compared to four years ago. However, the results in the capital came to the rescue of PP leader Pablo Casado, whose disastrous performance in the general election had undermined him less than a year after taking control of the party.

“The Popular Party has already begun its comeback,” Mr Casado told supporters after the Madrid results were in. That may be overly optimistic, but he could at least point to the fact that the PP once again held off the challenge of Ciudadanos, whose claim to be the main party of opposition to the Socialists looks untenable.

The PP and Ciudadanos must now decide how much influence they grant the far-right Vox party, whose support they will need in order to govern in Madrid and elsewhere. Mr Sánchez appealed to the PP and Ciudadanos “not to put in the hands of the far-right the stability of municipal and regional governments”. Neither appears willing to heed his call.

Period of infighting

Mr Sánchez’s closest ally, Podemos, was the biggest loser of all as it reeled from a period of infighting which has threatened to tear the party apart. Of the range of town halls that Podemos and its allies took control of in 2015, only Cádiz now remains.

Meanwhile, Ada Colau, who has governed Barcelona with the support of Podemos, lost a tight contest to the Catalan Republican Left (ERC).

With the distraction of these elections now behind him, Mr Sánchez will attempt to negotiate the formation of a new parliamentary majority with other parties. The Madrid setback notwithstanding, Sunday’s results have not just bolstered his credibility but also his chances of governing for the next four years without needing to form a coalition.