by George Kerevan
SPAIN’S ruling Socialist party suffered massive losses in Sunday’s regional and local elections. Nationally, the winner was the rightwing, opposition Partido Popular (PP) but in both Catalonia and the Basque country the nationalist movement made sweeping gains.
Across Spain, which has the EU’s highest unemployment, an angry electorate rejected the austerity programme imposed by the Socialists (PSOE).
The opposition PP won 37.3 per cent of the vote compared with 27.9.ay’s regional and local elections in Spain. In contrast PSOE received 27.8 per cent. The PP is now set to govern nine of Spain’s 17 regional governments. PP mayors will be in charge of 36 of Spain’s 50 provincial capital cities,
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero conceded defeat but ruled out early general elections (which he would lose).
In Catalonia, where regional elections were held last year, the political battle focused on the municipal contests, which were won convincingly by the main Catalan nationalist party, Convergence and Union (CiU).
In the capital Barcelona, the CiU took 15 seats (up three), while the Catalan wing of the PSOE , only 11 seats (down three). The Socialists, who have governed Barcelona for 32 years – think Labour in Glasgow – dropped 48,000 votes while the CiU gained 20,000 more votes, compared to the municipal elections in 2007.
The CiU came first in the Catalonian regional elections held last November, ousting a left-wing coalition led by the Socialists. CiU won 62 of the 135 seats in the Catalan parliament, eight short of an overall majority.
The various nationalist parties have a clear majority in the Catalan parliament – a mandate confirmed by Sunday’s vote. A ruling by Spain’s constitutional court last summer to water down a new autonomy statute brought a million nationalist demonstrators on to the streets of Barcelona. Polls at the time showed support for independence rising to 50 per cent, before slipping back in the autumn.
In the Basque country, there was a shock result in Sunday’s municipal elections. The moderate Basque Nationalist Party(PNV) won with 30 per cent of the vote of the municipal vote. But Bildu, a new radical separatist alliance, took 25 per cent, pushing the Socialists into third place with 16 per cent.
Some see Bildu as the successor to Batasuna, a banned front organisation for the Basque terrorist group ETA. Formally, Bildu disavows ETA’s violence but it was banned from running in the local elections by the supreme court on May 1st. The ruling was then overturned by the Spanish constitutional court.
Elections to the Basque regional parliament were held in 2009. The PNV won 30 seats in the 75-seat parliament, with the Socialists taking 24. Three other smaller nationalist parties – Aralar, Eusko Alkartasuna and Ezker Batua – won a further seven seats. Sunday’s municipal vote has now given the Basque nationalists a popular majority.