The results of the local and regional elections in Spain, where the Popular Party beat the Socialist Party by 2 million votes (a 10 point difference), leave the latter in a very difficult position for the upcoming months.
In the Regional Sphere, they have lost most of their “strongholds” to the Popular Party: Autonomous Communities like Baleares, Cantabria, or Castilla–La Mancha will see their Socialist Governments be replaced by PP Governments, which will be added to Comunidad de Madrid, Murcia, La Rioja, Ceuta, Melilla, Castilla y León or Comunitat Valenciana, where the PP was already the party in power. In addition, the PP will most likely rule Aragón where, despite winning the elections, it does not have an absolute majority. The Socialist Party might be able to keep Extremadura, which together with Andalussia and the Basque Country (where no regional elections were carried out), remain as the only three Autonomous Communities ruled by the PSOE.
A similar analysis applies to local elections: Socialist candidates were slammed by PP candidates in most cities. As an example, the PP will rule for the first time all 8 capitals in Andalussia, including Seville and Cordoba, while in Madrid the PP received more than double the amount of votes the PSOE did (the PP obtained 50% of the votes while the PSOE obtained 24%). With the Government of Zaragoza still to be decided, Vigo (300,000) could be the largest city ruled by PSOE.
In this scenario, and despite President Zapatero’s announcement that he will not call for General Elections before they’re due in March 2012, the Socialist Government will be under an enormous amount of pressure from the different opposition groups in the upcoming months. The exact date of the General Elections will depend on many factors, including the primary elections that will be carried out at the Socialist Party since Zapatero will not be running for re-election. Two possible scenarios arise:
- General Elections in 2012: If the Socialist Party manages to maintain Parliamentary stability, that is to say, if it can ensure support from minority groups, President Zapatero could continue carrying out the necessary reforms, approve the budget in Q4, and then call for General Elections next year. Other factors that could help maintain the current calendar would be an increase in overall confidence as a result of economic growth, lower unemployment, an end to ETA terrorism or successful Primary Elections in PSOE resulting in strong leadership from socialist figures like Rubalcaba or Chacón.
- General Elections before 2012: General Elections could take place before 2012 for a wide variety of reasons, including the PP winning a Vote of No Confidence or the PSOE losing a Vote of Confidence. Agreements amongst parties at a local and regional level following the results of the elections might also influence the relations between the Socialist Party and other parties in Congress, like PNV, that currently ensure Parliamentary stability. In addition, the economy will play an important role: if a bailout is needed, if economic growth does not take place, or if unemployment figures get worse, the pressure might force Zapatero to resign.
If everything goes according to the plan, the Socialist Party will have Primary Elections and decide on a candidate before the summer, the Budget will be approved in Q4, and General Elections will take place at some point between Christmas and March next year. However, given the current circumstances, this plan could very well be altered.
For Zapatero, the key to resisting external pressure might very well come from within the Socialist Party, since the balance of power of regional leaders and the result of the Primary elections will have an important effect on the cohesion of the socialist family. Some Socialist Leaders have already called for an Extraordinary Congress. If the Congress takes place, it would imply that the new candidate could also be the Secretary General of the Socialist Party. With the possibility of a new socialist leader emerging this summer, will Zapatero make it to March 2012?