Monday, March 26, 2012

Down but Not Out

Yesterday, I was in New Haven having lunch with Juan Linz, the greatest social scientist Spain has produced, and other friends when the results from the regional elections in Andalusia started coming in.   It had been a given on the part of not just political commentators but also the pollsters that the conservative Partido Popular would win an historic victory in the region - likely with a comfortable absolute majority - and send the Socialists, the PSOE, into opposition for the first time ever.  Imagine how stunned we were, then, when with 50% of the vote counted, our smart phones lit up with the news that the PSOE looked on its way to winning the election. 

In the end, the PP, who came to power nationally in November, did manage to get its historic victory in the south. By the slimmest of margins – 40.7% to 39.5%, they beat the PSOE and increased their seats in the regional parliament by 3 for a total of 50.  In contrast, the Socialists suffered a large loss of 9 seats to end up with 47. The only other party to clear the hurdle to enter parliament was the former communists, the IU, who doubled their seats to 12.  With 55 being the magic number to govern in a majority, the hoped for victory turned into a bitter defeat for the Populares, given that the probability of the PSOE and the IU not forming a coalition is, according to another guest at lunch who is also a prominent political scientist in Spain, ‘precisely zero.’

 As the noted political journalist Iñaki Gablando explains in a terrific video blog, José Antonio Griñán, the head of the PSOE in Andalusia and current President of the region, won the triple crown in this election. By opting to call the elections off cycle from the national elections, he ensured that the PP’s electoral tsunami did not hit the south with its full force as it surely would have had the elections taken place last November.  Griñán will maintain the PSOE’s hold on the Presidency and deny the PP’s ‘reconquista’ of ‘infidel’ Andalusia.  And, finally, his own position within the party, which had been very weak, has been strengthened.

In part, these results may show how little room for maneuver exists for governments in this crisis. While Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy claims that the results – more than 425,000 fewer votes than the PP won in Andalusia in November and a 5 percentage point drop – will not change his intention to implement austerity measures, this may signal the support the Spanish are willing to give for a program of adjustment is more limited than imagined. 

They also raise the question of whether the corruption in the PSOE in the south will ever be addressed.  Even many people who are not committed PP supporters hoped the Socialists would be turned out, both because some alternance in power is healthy for a democracy and to force the PSOE to clean up its act.  Popular disgust at the ERE scandal, where Socialists in the region were accused of cronyism and the fraudulent channeling of more than half a billion Euros in retirement payments, was not enough to keep the PSOE from returning to power, though the perceived corruption of many of the party’s regional leaders accounts for some of the decline. However, the question now is whether the addition of IU to the regional government will provide some sort of transparency or if Griñán will heed the message delivered at polls and attempt to reform the party.