On Sunday, voters in Spain’s Basque Country and Galicia went to the polls in two significant regional elections.
Originally due to take place on 5 April, they were postponed by a state of emergency, declared in response to the coronavirus. As ever, these elections are influenced by a mix of regional and national issues.
However, it is clear that Podemos, the left-wing populists and junior partners in Spain’s governing coalition, are beginning to learn a difficult lesson the Liberal Democrats are all-too familiar with.
When the Basque Parliament was dissolved on 11 February, the largest party was the Basque Nationalists with 28 seats, followed by the Basque pro-independence party EH Bildu on 18. Both made gains on Sunday, with the Basque Nationalist Party gaining three seats and EH Bildu gaining four. The legacy party in Spain’s coalition, the socialists PSOE, saw a modest increase of one seat, while the right-wing populists Vox took their first ever seat in the region. The formerly liberal party Ciudadanos, who have spent recent years chasing to the right to win support of disgruntled People’s Party (PP) voters, stood on a joint ticket with the conservative party, but their combined effort saw four fewer seats than PP had won alone four years ago.
In the Basque country, though, it was Podemos who experienced the hardest night, with their electoral alliance Elkarrekin Podemos’ share of the vote falling by 6.8 percentage points and their number of seats falling by five.
The shift in Galicia was even more pronounced. A PP stronghold, the party maintained their overall majority in the regional parliament with 41 seats. PSOE again saw an improvement of one seat, climbing to 15. The biggest winners of the night, however, were the Galician Nationalist Bloc, who skyrocketed from 6 to 19 seats, becoming the second-largest party in the region.
Once again, Podemos had the worst result in Galicia, with their electoral alliance Galicia in Common losing all of the 14 seats won in 2016 and their share of the vote collapsing from 19% in 2016 to less than 4% on Sunday.
PSOE and Podemos are members of the first coalition government in Spain since the transition to democracy in the 1970s. Formed in the aftermath of the country’s second general election in 2019, it has had the unenviable task of navigating coronavirus and negotiating additional national and regional challenges, particularly from Catalonia’s fracturing pro-independence government.
In the UK’s local elections in 2011, the Liberal Democrats lost 748 councillors – almost half of the total going into the election – and saw their share of the vote fall by 11 percentage points to 15%. The Conservatives’ vote, meanwhile, held firm at 35%, and they even gained 86 councillors. Sunday’s results in Spain seem to suggest a similar response to their coalition government, with the legacy party’s support holding firm while the junior party faces electoral collapse.
The next election in Spain is likely to be held in Catalonia, where Podemos’ electoral alliance currently holds 8 seats. Although no date has yet been fixed, it is likely to be held in the autumn, and whilst the political landscape in Catalonia is complicated, it will remain to be seen whether Podemos fare any better there.
Whether Podemos’ quick march to electoral disaster endures for as long as the Liberal Democrats’ has, they do, at least, appear to be learning the same lesson: going into coalition might be the right thing to do in the national interest, but your voters won’t always thank you for it.
Alan is a columnist for Liberal Base and Liberal Democrat activist from Medway. He Tweets @alancollinspdb.