Andalusia: first sign of the two party system’s recovery? – Emmanuel Rodríguez & Isidro López

[Article written by Emmanuel Rodríguez (@emmanuelrog) and Isidro López (@LumumbaJr), published originally in Público on 23 March 2015, right after the regional elections in Andalusia, Spain. Translation by David Ferreira (@igualitarista)]

One of the peculiarities of Spain is that the country has been built from north to south. That history has been written in this direction is shown by the use of highly charged ideological terms like the reconquista, by which the conquest of the south of the peninsula by the christian kingdoms of the north is “naturalized”. It is one of those key paradoxes in the historical construction of Spain, at least if you consider that the Valley Guadalquivir and the Mediterranean coast [roughly the borders of Andalucia] have been the center of civilization in the Iberian Peninsula since prehistoric times, or if you take into account that Andalusia has been, for a long time, the richest region throughout modern time until the nineteenth century.

Do the Andalusian elections show a “reconquest” by the actors of the regime of ’78 of territory lost since the emergence of 15M? Not so much nor so obvious, it must be said. Certainty, the two party system has lost territory, having fallen from 80% to 62% of the vote. The two political actors of the latest generation, Podemos and Ciudadanos, have accumulated nearly 25%. Teresa Rodriguez of Podemos has achieved a hard won space against the “very Andalusian, leftist” Susana Diaz of PSOE. For his part, the candidate from Ciudadanos (Juan Marin), unknown till recently, has won a little more than 9%. A clear success for a party that declares itself “of and for” the middle classes, in territory in which the middle classes are so weak they nearly approach irrelevance.

However, for PSOE the results are practically the same : a little less than a million and a half votes and the same number of MPs as in 2012. Nor has the abstention been significantly mobilized. It has only increased from 60% to little more than 63%. The losses have been centered on the regional opposition party, the Popular Party, that went from 40% to 27%, and the partners of the socialists, United Left, that fell from 12% to 7%. For PSOE it has been enough to have a candidate able to play the cards of an incoherent and empty leftism, enhanced by the infinite repetition of “Andalusians & Andalusia”, in addition to the imposing image of a pregnancy that is show as often on television as at large political rallies, to achieve this “historic victory” that Susana claims for herself.

In any case, can these results be extrapolated to the rest of the country? It is here where all the interests lies in the Andalusian test case, especially for the only force calling openly for the rupture with the regime of ’78, Podemos. There’s little doubt that the party system has distinct time and resistance in the southern half of the Spanish state than in the rest of its territory. Nor is Andalusia a mere exception, but a piece just as unique as the others within a complex peninsular puzzle. Put another way, and considering the material of available opinion polls, it is doubtful that in Madrid or Valencia the Popular Party will be beaten as the number one force, as much as its 50% may be taken down into the 30s. just like the “historic” Susana Diaz, the regional organizations of the Popular Party are aware of the absence or low density of the organization of Podemos and Ciudadanos at the regional and local level; and that in this territory they can count on the strength of civil society, that is, of their clientele networks long and generously fed by the public budget. In the same line, but with different colors, the results in the Basque Country and Catalonia may show similar results with the affirmation, as well, of the parties in government: The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), and a reinvented Convergence and Union (CiU).

It’s also necessary to recognize that Ciudadanos is a viable electoral reality and has managed to consolidate itself in territory that was less advantageous. Their 9% may double in the traditional voting areas of the Popular Party, fragmenting that “centrality of the spectrum” that the strategists of Podemos have envisioned. At the national level, the confirmation of a quadripartite -4 parties between 15% and 30% of the vote- opens a scenario of complex pacts in which the prospect of a constitutional rupture would end up delayed indefinitely. In this terrain, the possibility of a progressive government (PSOE, IU, Podemos) would be the worst option, in fact.
Ultimately, the always preliminary conclusions of the Andalusian election results may be, in the first place, that the political cycle is long, not short. In other words, that the election results may not conclusively show disillusionment with political change. It opens an uncertain period and with obvious problems of governance, but in which the position most probable -and most interesting- is articulating a consistent opposition that shapes the opportunities for rupture in the medium term. In second place, we confirm what we already knew: the political reality of the country is complex and responds to social and geographic diversity that makes inviable the populist hypothesis, at least in its academic version extracted from quick lessons of progressive governments in Latin America. The emergence of Ciudadanos, as the party of regeneration of the segments most neatly identified as the “middle class” and the diversity of the electoral results in the three regions that make up more than half the population (Andalusia, Madrid, and Catalonia) should serve as sufficient counter-proof. And lastly, and perhaps what’s most important: Many of the elements disregarded until now, mainly the need to build an organization territorially established, with competent structures and a solvent project (beyond the repetition of the memes of corruption and the “casta”) take at this juncture a relevance of strategic importance. For it to happen it requires a turn, in some aspects, that is a 180 degrees.

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