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King’s Votes: Sanchez’s Big Test

Staff writer Mehmet Yusuf Temur examines Spain’s political future in light of the upcoming municipal elections at the end of May.

Spain is facing a series of important political events this year. Municipal elections are set for May 28 2023, with national parliamentary elections scheduled for December. While the parliamentary elections will test the strength of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s coalition government between his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the left-wing Unidas Podemos, the municipal elections are also crucial to watch as they can be an important indicator of the voters’ preferences. Sanchez will face the main opposition party, the centre-right Peoples’ Party (PP) led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo. Political analysts predict that Feijóo may be able to unite the centre-right forces and the far-right, anti-immigration Vox party, which is currently the third-largest party in parliament.

Additionally, Spain will take over the presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of 2023, which means the country’s agenda for Europe can drastically change depending on the outcome of these elections.

Parties and Their Aims

In the May 28 elections, Vox seeks to consolidate its position as the third political force and increase its representation in local and regional parliaments. Its goal is to be a key player in the formation of joint governments with the PP and to oust the left from power. In 2019, the party won 45 regional deputies in eight parliaments, and its biggest success was entering into a coalition government with the PP in Castilla and León. According to polls, Vox would enter all regional parliaments and could become one of the strongest parties in the Valencian Community with up to 16 deputies, which would be crucial for a shift to the right in one of the most hotly contested communities of the election night.

Left-wing parties Podemos and Izquierda Unida (IU) are running together in all regions except for Aragon and Asturias. Their goal is to increase or at least maintain their political power, especially in those regions where they have no representation or have lost it since 2019. However, according to RTVE.es polls, Unidas Podemos would lose seats in most of the autonomous communities. Podemos seeks to improve its results to face the negotiation of a coalition with Sumar, another left-wing party, for the general elections with strength. In addition, after losing many important mayorships in 2019, its main municipal bastion is Barcelona with Mayor Ada Colau, who is fully aligned with Sumar and its leader Yolanda Díaz, the candidate for the general elections who will be supported by the second vice president in the campaign.

Ciudadanos (Citizens), a centre-right party, are in a delicate situation in these elections after years of decline in electoral processes. In 2019, it obtained representation in all regions, but it is now on the brink of the abyss. Its presence in regional parliaments would be in danger if the trend reflected in the polls is confirmed. The party has reduced by more than half its municipal candidacies and hopes to turn its situation around in these crucial elections for its survival.

These elections are the first real showdown between the leaders of the PSOE and the PP, Pedro Sánchez and Alberto Núñez Feijóo respectively, and both are playing for their political future. Victory in the majority of municipalities and communities is crucial to face the final fight in December with strength. Sánchez has made housing a ‘national cause’ to attract young voters, while Feijóo seeks to wrestle territory from the PSOE to extend the blue tide until the general elections. The campaign will mix local and regional issues with national ones, and all national leaders will get involved.

How Will This Affect the General Election?

Municipal elections are usually a good indicator of a country’s electoral preferences. Since 1995, the winner of these elections has subsequently won the general election, except in 2007. This pattern has been followed in the last three elections held in 2011, 2015, and 2019. In 2011, the PP won the municipal elections and then the general elections, and in 2015, although losing votes, the PP again won both elections. In 2019, the PSOE won the municipal elections and both general elections of the year.

Currently, some general election polls indicate that the PP and VOX may form the future Spanish coalition government in 2024, while others point to a victory for the PSOE with Unidas Podemos and other smaller left-wing parties. As it can go either way, the results of these local elections may decide which political wing will have the upper-hand on directing Spain’s future, and can be an important indicator of the country’s economic and political direction going forward.

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