After two years of political upheaval and fragmentation, on Sunday Spain saw something like a return to stability. Regional elections in Galicia and the Basque Country saw the incumbents strengthen their positions with resounding victories that left no question as to their ability to govern over the coming four years.
The result for the conservative Popular Party (PP) in Galicia was particularly emphatic, as it maintained its 41 seats in the 75-seat parliament, far ahead of the En Marea leftist coalition and the Socialists, both on 14 seats.
For the acting prime minister of Spain, Mariano Rajoy, this was a boost to his drawn-out ambitions of forming a new central government, after 10 months of political stasis.
It is still not clear how much the Galicia result will influence national politics. But it does deliver a stark message: despite a torrent of corruption cases, the PP can still win a majority – albeit in one of its biggest strongholds – after a new era of fragmented politics had suggested otherwise.
The performance was attributed in great part to the PP’s candidate, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the premier of the north-western region since 2009. Distancing himself from the party and its scandals during the campaign, he now looks odds-on favourite to one day succeed the uncharismatic Rajoy as leader of the PP.
"Feijóo is the future of the party, without a doubt," noted Pedro J Ramírez, editor of El Español newspaper, after the election. "Unfortunately for the centre-right, Rajoy is still its present."
General elections in December and June were both inconclusive, leading to the current lack of government in Madrid and raising the possibility of a third election this Christmas, if the stalemate is not broken. The Galician result suggests the PP is the only party that can wholeheartedly look forward to yet another election, raising the pressure on its rivals to help reach a solution.
The Socialists, by contrast, are ruing the loss of four seats in Galicia and seven in the Basque Country, piling the pressure on their beleaguered leader Pedro Sánchez, who has so far stood firm in refusing to help Rajoy form a new administration.
"What more has to happen before the Socialist Party takes stock?" tweeted a former minister of the party, José Blanco, as the results came in and confirmed the electoral decline of recent years.
Sánchez responded on Monday by calling a snap party primary for late October – too soon, he hopes for his rivals to oust him – but his days as leader nonetheless appear to be numbered, as do his increasingly desperate attempts at forming a leftist alternative to a Rajoy government.
However, the Socialists could play a junior role in the government of the Basque Country. The governing Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), led by Íñigo Urkullu, won 29 seats, gaining two, to confirm its status as the region’s dominant force, despite the challenge of the pro-independence leftist coalition of EH Bildu (second with 17 seats) and Podemos (third with 11 seats).
There had been speculation that the PNV might gain the PP’s support in the Basque parliament in exchange for an impasse-breaking deal in the Spanish Congress. Although the PP has enough seats – nine – to give the PNV a majority, the Socialists, who have the same number, are likely to be its preferred partner.
Elsewhere, Podemos is a significant force as it makes its debut in the Basque regional parliament, but its failure to match EH Bildu fell short of its hopes in a region where it was the best supported party in the last two general elections.