Regionalist parties and the Spanish election: short-term defeat or long-term victory?

How did ethnoregionalist parties in Spain get on in yesterday’s election? On the cup half-full or half-empty analogy, it entirely depends on how you look at it. Or more specifically, how you assess the better than expected showing of Podemos, the insurgent Spanish populist left party.

spanish election result

Despite Spain’s media and polls bigging up the centre-right and safer, anti-corruption insurgent party of the Ciudadanos (C’s) (now why ever would they do that?), the C’s came fourth across Spain and, with 14%, lagged 7% behind Podemos. The overall results in terms of seats in the 350-member Spanish Cortes looks like this:

Seats won in Spanish elections 2015 and 2011

2015 2011
Popular Party (PP) 123 186
Socialist Partyy (PSOE) 90 110
Podemos and allies 69
Cuidadanos 40 1
Regionalist/nationalist parties 26 38
Other left 2 10
Centrists 0 5

Look out for media reports of the Popular Party (PP) ‘winning’. But this was a strange ‘victory’ as their vote slumped from 45% in 2011 to just 29% now. The second party, the Socialists, also saw support fall from 29% to 22% and only narrowly edged out Podemos. The vote for the two main post-Franco Spanish parties fell to under 50%.

At first glance the loss of 12 regionalist/nationalist seats looks like a poor performance. The Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) won no seats for the first time since 1986. The Canarian Coalition lost one of its two seats. In Navarra, the even split between the two Basque nationalist formations means they both lost their single seat.

But the key lies in the ‘and allies’ description of Podemos. For in Catalonia, Galicia and Valencia Podemos was part of lists including leftist pro-independence parties. In Galicia, the leftist Anova joined with Podemos and others in a list that came second, winning six seats. Similarly, a list bringing together Podemos and the regionalists of Compromis in Valencia also did very well, second with nine seats.

But the biggest success for Podemos came in Catalonia. Here it was part of a list including pro-independence parties, Greens and civic activists. Podemos’ leader Pablo Iglesias last night called for a special constitutional settlement for Catalonia and in the election campaign the party was supporting a referendum on independence. As a result, their list topped the poll, as in Galicia and Valencia winning 25%.

Meanwhile, the older leftist Catalan Republican Left (ERC) increased its representation from three to nine seats, with its second best performance ever. For the centre-right traditional Catalan ruling party Convergencia (CiU) the election was disastrous. Under the name of Democracy and Liberty, it saw its seats halve from 16 to eight. Nonetheless, anti-independence parties in Catalonia won just 18 of the region’s 47 seats.

In the Basque Country, Podemos also topped the poll with 26%, although the Basque Nationalist Party won one more seat, its six seats this time increasing its tally by one. Clearly, a large chunk of the radical Basque nationalist vote left EH Bildu for Podemos. EH Bildu’s vote fell from 24% to 15% and it saw its seats slip from six to two.

Furthermore, with neither left nor right in Spain able to cobble together a majority, the role of the Catalan and Basque parties has become critical for whoever forms the next Spanish Government. Interesting times.

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