Significant rise in the far-right seen across local and regional elections in Spain: but not in Catalonia

Image Description: The Popular Party's leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo celebrates victory with Madrid regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso (Centre) and Mayor of Madrid, Jose Luis Martinez Almeida (Right), Madrid on May 28, 2023. Photography: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

Spain has become the latest country to see a rise in far-right voting in Europe, following the outcome of the May 28 local and regional elections. This far-right trend has taken over major European countries such as Austria, France, Germany, and Sweden – with the normalisation of the far-right ethos steadily drifting into many more countries.

The elections on May 28 took place across 8,131 municipalities, with 12 out of 17 regions electing leaders and assemblies. Turnout for these local elections was 63.9 percent of more than 35 million people who were eligible to vote – down slightly on 2019.

According to the Interior Ministry, the far-right party, The People’s Party (PP), won 31.5% of the vote, with the socialist vote dropping to 28.2 percent The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) suffered a 1.2 percent decrease in this vote, with an almost nine percent increase for PP.

10 of the 12 regions electing leaders and assemblies had previously been run by socialist parties, but now, only three of these 12 regions will retain socialist dominance – and by very narrow margins. The rest of these regions are now run by PP, although some will be run with coalitions or informal support agreements with Vox, Spain’s biggest far-right party. Spain’s regional governments have enormous power and budgetary discretion over education, health, housing, and policing.

PP achieved an absolute majority in Madrid for Mayor José Luis Martínez Almeida, as well as Isabel Diaz Ayuso, current PP president for the Madrid region.

Valencia, Seville, Aragon, and La Rioja were also dominated by PP in this election, when these regions were previously won by PSOE. Setbacks for socialist leadership was evident in the Balearic Islands, as well as in the southwestern region of Extremadura, one of the most important socialist domains.

Catalonia is one of those regions that has managed to maintain a socialist power-structure, with Barcelona becoming the biggest city in Spain to avoid this far-right takeover. The Catalonian city voted for a pro-independence party – but the party won by such a narrow margin that it will need an agreement with the socialists to remove the current left-wing mayor, Ada Colau of Barcelona en Comú, from power.

Winning 72 seats in the 135-seat regional parliament, the main separatist alliance and a smaller nationalist party fell just short of receiving half the vote – with 1.9-million out of 4-million ballots cast going to these pro-independence parties.

Separatists say this victory gives them a clear mandate to form an independent Catalan state, however, with the rise of the PP, it is unclear whether this will be “allowed” after the general elections on July 23.

Prior to the elections on Sunday, current Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, who governs Spain with PSOE in coalition with Podemos, was determined to carry through his four-year term, indicating a general election would be held in December. However, after the poor results for his PSOE socialist party, Sánchez announced a surprise general election for July.

Sánchez confirmed he had spoken to the King of Spain, king Felipe VI, and he would be holding a special Cabinet meeting later on Monday, May 29, to dissolve parliament. The Prime Minister stated this decision was made “given the results of the elections held yesterday (Sunday, May 28).”

Having been in office since 2018, Sunday’s elections found Sánchez facing several obstacles: voter fatigue with his left-wing government, soaring inflation and falling purchasing power.

Sánchez expressed confidence that voters would cast their ballots responsibly ahead of the elections, saying: “Most of our citizens will vote positively … for what is important: for public healthcare, public education and housing policies for our young people.” Evidently, things did not go the way the PM thought they would.

In contrast, the Prime Minister’s biggest competitor for the upcoming election, Feijóo had urged the Spanish people to “vote massively” to ensure the next government is a strong one. Feijóo also denounced Sánchez, claiming he not only panders to the far left but also to the Basque and Catalan independence parties, on which the PM’s minority government has relied for parliamentary support.

In the 2019 general election, Spain’s third-largest political group in main parliament, the Vox party, defined by its antipathy to migrants and opposition to regional autonomy in Spain, came third. In the latest local elections, the party more than doubled their share of councillors to 7.2 percent – meaning they will now have significant influence on policy in major cities where PP will rely on their vote.

As unease with PSOE and Podemos rises, PP or Vox could soon be in government, the first time the Spanish far right would be in power since the fall of Franco.



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