What seemed like a catastrophe foretold for the left after the municipal and regional elections of 28 May has ended up turning into a bitter defeat for the extreme right-wing PP and Vox on 23 July, preventing them from governing. It remains to be seen if a new progressive coalition will be able to do so and face the challenge of tackling the social and democratic problems pending from the previous legislature with a worse correlation of forces and a smaller fiscal margin due to EU pressure. But it is also possible that the demands expressed by Junts, whose abstention is essential for the formation of a progressive government, could end up forcing the call for new general elections in the Kingdom of Spain before the end of 2023.
By Daniel Raventós, Gustavo Buster and Miguel Salas
The failure of the extreme right Feijóo, the Partido Popular candidate, had only one chance. And he has squandered it. He won 136 seats, 47 more than his already forgotten predecessor in 2019, 33.05% of the votes, with an unprecedented mobilisation of the right, thanks to the transfer of useful votes from the extreme right of Vox (which lost 19 seats) and from taking in the orphaned votes of Ciudadanos (which in 2019 still won 10 seats, and whose disappearance nobody regrets). In his speech he claimed a non-existent constitutional right to be allowed to govern as the most voted list. A melancholic appeal to the dynastic bipartisanship, which in reality hides a policy of electoral apartheid of the majority of citizens, and which died on 1 October 2016 with the crisis of the PSOE for the same reason and the defenestration-resurrection of Pedro Sánchez.
But Feijóo’s calls to govern with the support of little more than a quarter of the electorate was never his “plan A”. The map that emerged from the municipal and regional elections of March 28 left him only the option of a coalition with Vox, despite even refusing to appear in any debate in which Abascal was present. And this was the weakest point of his project, despite his support for the “repeal of Sanchismo”. A reactionary extreme right-wing PP-Vox coalition government, in the wake of Poland, Finland or Hungary, can hardly represent that frozen “state consensus” that the 1978 Constitution has become.
Finally, far from dividing them, it has mobilised the left, awakening their basic instinct for survival: Feijóo has not lived up to Isabel Ayuso’s expectations, not even in Madrid, the stronghold of the rentier oligarchy, where he has lost 7.3% of the votes obtained on March 28, equivalent to 2 deputies. In the last week of the campaign he squandered much of his initial advantage with his lies, the absence of the no end debate and his relationship with Marcial Dorado, of whom he knew he was a “smuggler but not yet a drug trafficker”. Before the internal settling of scores within the PP, he is left with the bitter pill of being appointed by Felipe VI, failing in the motion of confidence without obtaining either the 176 seats of an absolute majority or a mere simple majority, because he is assured of 179 MPs voting against him. And it remains to be seen what Vox will do in this impasse, after being dragged down by the most useless useful vote of Feijóo’s hypocritical campaign.
Vox has been the big loser in Feijóo’s strategy. It has no choice but to bunker itself as the neo-Francoist extreme right, in the wake of Tamames’ motion of censure. It will be a problem of instability in the regional governments it shares as a minority partner with the PP (Valencia and Extremadura) or in those that the PP has not allowed it to enter despite its support (Balearic Islands and Murcia).
The umpteenth resurrection of Pedro Sánchez
After losing the municipal and regional elections on 28 May, calling early elections and the puncture in the debate with Feijóo in the first week of the election campaign, Pedro Sánchez has been able to make a virtue out of weakness. He has resisted the avalanche of the right and obtained better results than in 2019, adding two more deputies to the PSOE parliamentary group with 31.70% of the votes, less than 300,000 ballots and 1.35% of the PP. Thanks to the invaluable help of Zapatero, in the last week of the campaign he has managed to turn the supposed “Sanchismo” into a cry of resistance against the extreme right, relying more on the survival instinct of the left than on the vindication of the successes of his management at the head of the progressive coalition government.
The shortcomings of his management can be summed up in two aspects, if not three, which we have repeated ad nauseam in Sin Permiso: a continuous attempt at equilibrist arbitration between opposing class interests and a limitation to the frameworks of the ’78 regime (as well as the Brussels Consensus and the geopolitical one of NATO) despite the fact that they were the root or aggravated the conjunctural problems of managing the accumulated polycrisis. The third, as is evident, has been the parking and attempt to “deflate” rather than resolve the constitutional crisis in Catalonia.
While the first two are the reason for the disenchantment that has so affected the mobilisation of the left until it has appealed to its own survival, the third has ended up eroding the political legacy of the procés and giving an electoral majority to the PSC (+7 seats) and to Sumar-Comuns in Catalonia (which maintains its own), despite the dead life that the dialogue table has meant and which has cost ERC 7 seats. But it would be a mirage to believe that the constitutional crisis in Catalonia is “appeased” or on the way to a solution: the proof of this is the blockade and the repetition of general elections that Junts is threatening if Madrid does not open up concrete prospects for a democratic solution to the Catalan national question, despite the electoral defeat suffered by the three pro-independence parties.
The PSOE has also managed to slightly outvote the PNV and EH-Bildu in the Basque Country, establishing a three-way balance whose most reliable manager is EH-Bildu. And it gained one seat, despite being overtaken by the PP, in Madrid, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Navarre, Cantabria and Valencia. Its most preoccupying and important failures are the loss of four seats in Andalusia and three in Galicia, where the PP’s cacique majorities are consolidated, as in Castilla-León. In Castilla-La Mancha, the PP-Vox bloc is clearly growing against the PSOE, without Sumar winning a single seat, and the same is true in Extremadura and Aragon.
The conclusion from these data is that the PSOE’s correlation of forces with the social and political right continues to deteriorate and it depends more on the other forces of the progressive bloc, starting with Sumar, to maintain its hegemony. This will increase the contradictions of Sánchez’s arbitrism, which were already manifest in the first progressive coalition government, especially on the horizon of the austerity turn in the application of the European Fiscal Pact and the evolution of the war in Ukraine.
The archaeology of the birth of what has become Sumar, an electoral coalition of more than 15 territorial organisations to the left of the PSOE, partly the result of the Podemos crisis, can be traced back to Pablo Iglesias’ appointment of Yolanda Díaz as a candidate for Unidas Podemos when he left the government in March 2021.
The transformation of one coalition into another has been determined by the very balance of the management in the progressive coalition government of the different components of Unidas Podemos, starting with that of Vice-President Pablo Iglesias himself and that of Yolanda Díaz in the Ministry of Work. But the controversies generated by measures such as the Minimum Living Income and especially that of the “yes is yes” law, as well as the lack of consensus on the coalition model that was to replace Unidas Podemos, have been delaying the launch of the project.
This began with the “listening process” and the programmatic drafting commissions at the beginning of 2023, not making it possible to present unitary candidacies in the municipal and regional elections of March 28. Sumar, therefore, continues to be a confederal coalition, with a small “umbrella” organisation of the same name, which must exercise political leadership tasks from the parliamentary group, while developing new democratic structures and coordinating existing ones territorially, giving coherence to the whole of the political space to the left of the PSOE.
The election results have made it possible – despite the pressure of the useful vote for the PSOE and the lack of time for the mobilisation of a very wide range of identities – to constitute Sumar as an essential progressive coalition partner and a possible bridge between the PSOE and the Basque, Catalan and Galician sovereignist left. Despite having the support of trade unions such as CCOO and UGT, the ebb of social mobilisation continues to be expressed in a decline in the number of votes (680,000) and seats (7) in relation to those obtained by the same political space in 2019.
Sumar is therefore a project that is completely open from the legacy received. It will need to take stock together, avoid centrifugal tendencies and develop its programme, conceived as a programme of reforms and governance in defence of the immediate interests of the working classes and minorities. Overcoming this initial “economism” and giving it a democratic political content that responds to the structural problems of the ’78 regime – counteracting from the left the pressures that the PSOE receives from the right – is perhaps one of the most important challenges of what is intended to be a “new Labourism”, a radical social democracy in a non-revolutionary period.
As important as its capacity to offer a plural unitary space to all the currents of the left will be its capacity to establish relations with the social movements, respecting their autonomy but defending and projecting their struggles in the parliamentary arena. It has in this process of construction the examples of the Portuguese Bloco de Esquerda or the Brazilian PSOL, but with the difficulties inherent in a plurinational state whose democratic articulation is still pending.
Independents and sovereigntists
Any analysis of the results is incomplete without including the results in Galicia, Euskadi and Catalonia. For the obvious reason, as pointed out at the beginning, that the repetition of the elections depends on if Junts abstains and allows the formation of a new PSOE-Sumar government.
In Galicia, the strengthening of the PP with three more seats is accompanied by the same fall of the PSG. But both Sumar and BNG maintain their 2019 results, with the transfer of 1% of the vote from the former to the latter.
In the Basque Country, the PSE obtains 14,000 more votes than the PNV, which loses one seat, and EH-Bildu, in a tripartite tie in practice. Sumar only kept one of the three seats of Unidas Podemos and the PP won another seat. In Navarre, EH-Bildu keeps the seat it had, but the winner is once again the PSN, although it is outvoted by the divided right-wing parties of PP, UPN and Vox, although only the first two win seats.
In Catalonia there was a major change in the correlation of forces, with the PSC winning seven seats. Sumar-Comuns held on and together with the PSC won 48.52% of the votes. After the controversy over the right to decide and the role of the dialogue table with a possible subsequent consultation on the agreement reached, the difference with the sum of the three pro-independence forces (26.60%) is very significant. ERC loses 7 seats and Junts 1, while the CUP loses its seats by a small percentage. PP gains 4 seats to 6, and with the 2 held by Vox, they add up to 21.10%.
Junts’ negotiating capacity is more the result of the instability of the overall electoral result, of the left-right social polarisation throughout the kingdom of Spain, than the result of its own force or the reflection of a popular sovereignty process that is clearly in ebb and whose political alternative in the last period has been ERC. Puigdemont’s blockade has the primary objective of recovering the hegemony that ERC snatched from him, making the ebb of the procés profitable, and only secondly to improve his correlation of forces with the progressive central government, because the latter does not have the correlation of forces with the right either for constitutional reform or to prevent the autonomous action of a Supreme Court in the hands of the right against the exiles. Given that the extreme right’s campaign against “Sanchismo” has been based precisely on this issue, riding the coattails of Spanish nationalism, the room for manoeuvre of both PSOE and Junts, for their own reasons, is so narrow that it is difficult to envisage a ground for agreement that would not force a repeat of the elections. All the more so given the latest actions of Judge Llarena of the Supreme Court.
Frankenstein versus Nosferatu: the end of dynastic bipartisanship
The elections of 23 J have expressed a class polarisation unheard of since the Second Republic, even if the class elements are not always expressed consciously or clearly. The calls to respect Feijóo’s most voted list, leaving the majority of voters of other political options without representation, may represent a melancholic and useless call to rebuild the dynastic bipartisanship that alternated in government between the PP and the PSOE, with the external support of the CiU and even the PNV, when necessary. The centre-right replaced the centre-left, with occasional external support from the Catalan and Basque centre-right.
As we have pointed out before, this bipartisanship has died as an expression of the political crisis of the ’78 regime. Class polarisation is what currently feeds the useful vote around two parties of the right and left, reflecting precisely the opposite effect of the two-party system, which tried to build a “state consensus” around the 1978 Constitution and its monarchy to avoid such polarisation.
This difference between bipartisanship and polarisation, although it had and has as its main protagonists the PP and the PSOE, is the political reflection of the social and economic transformations that have eroded the traditional petty bourgeoisie with the modernisation and proletarianisation of the service sector, which is dominant in our economy. As a result, the political centre has shrunk and when it has been artificially reconstructed, as in the case of Ciudadanos, it has been based on the radicalisation of Spanish nationalism, whose main beneficiary has been Vox.
Although he has remained in the background during the campaign, the PP’s former secretary of state for culture, José María Lassalle, has best captured this polarisation in an image of popular culture. Against the progressive Frankenstein government, the alternative of a reactionary Nosferatu government.
In the romantic tradition that moulded both characters, Frankenstein is a monster reconstructed from pieces of proletarian corpses, brought to life by a mad but well-meaning scientist through the concentrated electricity of a storm. Frankenstein awakens to emerge into the light of day and help build a new world. He is the “new Prometheus” who encounters the rejection and incomprehension of those who cling to the known bad, unable, like Frankenstein, to shake off their chains.
In the same tradition, Nosferatu is a lord of the night who flees the light of day, unable to bear it, who lives off his feudal privileges by sucking the blood of his unfortunate servants, both figuratively, through the extraction of his rents from the earth, and literally. It is the example of what revolts and revolutions since the 17th century have wanted to leave behind and against which the revolution of 1848, in which Marx and Engels took part, was openly opposed.
Nosferatu has been defeated at the last moment in these elections of 23 J. But he is not dead, because a wooden stake in the heart is necessary. It may be worth remembering this in the coming months.