Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union can be divided into two parts. The first recognises the right of a member state to withdraw from the European Union. The second establishes the procedure that the withdrawing member state and the EU institutions have to follow to manage that withdrawal. Article 50 says that the […] More
Although the Spanish Socialist Party won the most seats in the Andalusian regional elections on December 2, this was not a victory to celebrate. In an area where the socialists have ruled unchallenged since the first autonomous elections in 1982, to be reduced to 33 seats with 27.9% of the votes was a humiliation. This […] More
Although the Spanish Socialist Party won the most seats in the Andalusian regional elections on December 2, this was not a victory to celebrate. In an area where the socialists have ruled unchallenged since the first autonomous elections in 1982, to be reduced to 33 seats with 27.9% of the votes was a humiliation.
This humiliation was sharpened by the fact that the Socialist premier of Andalusia, Susana Diaz, called the elections early (they were scheduled to take place in March 2019). She believed that her mandate would be strengthened and her assumed victory would consolidate the Socialist government at a national level. The very opposite happened.
This regional election, with a low turnout of 58.65%, demonstrated both the decline of the Spanish left in general, and a corresponding rise in the rise of the right across Andalusia.
The rise of Vox
The two real winners of the election were the centre-right Cuidadanos and the extreme-right Vox parties. Opinion polls before the vote predicted Vox might make a breakthrough and gain one seat, but it surpassed all expectations and won 12 seats, going from 0.46% of the vote in 2015 to 10.97%.
An absolute majority requires 55 seats in the Andalusian parliament. There is no easy combination of forces to form the next regional government in Andalusia. The left in the form of the Socialist Party and Adelante Andalusia – which only won 17 seats – can only total 50 seats together, five short of the 55 required. Only a combination of right-wing forces, the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox would provide the necessary number of 59 seats. It’s significant that neither the Popular Party or Ciudadanos have ruled out the possibility of seeking the support of Vox.
Pablo Casado, the leader of the Popular Party, said on December 4 that he was considering negotiating with both Ciudadanos and Vox, including offering each party ministries in the regional government. He argued that the real danger was not Vox but Podemos, the left-wing populist party, who he called “the most radical party of democracy”. Meanwhile, Vox candidate Francisco Serrano argued that his party’s victory marked the beginning of “the reconquest” of Spain.
The far-right French leader Marine Le Pen was the first to congratulate Vox on its unprecedented victory. This is no coincidence. Vox is an extreme right-wing party which campaigned on an anti-immigration, anti-feminist and nationalist platform. Its call for tougher immigration controls has worked particularly well in Andalusia, which receives the majority of immigrants who cross the Mediterranean to Spain.
Susana Diaz, Socialist Party candidate for the Andalusian presidency, casting her vote. Julio Munoz/EPA
The Catalan issue
Yet the key issue which galvanises Vox and which has fuelled its rise from 2014 is its complete rejection of Catalan independence. Vox rejects Spain’s current semi-federal state and demands the unity of the country in a tone reminiscent of the Francoist dictatorship. Its electoral manifesto demanded the immediate suspension of autonomy in Catalonia and the trial of those who had pushed for independence following the referendum in October 2017. Vox depicts Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, as a separatist puppet who governs thanks to “the enemies of Spain”.
The rise of Vox in Andalusia has serious consequences for the weak Socialist government in Madrid which has been punished, among other things, for the perception that it has been too easy on the Catalan independence movement. Although Diaz’s campaign was a regional one with a markedly Andalusian focus, Sánchez was conspicuous by his absence from the campaign trail, the result is a clear verdict on his government.
There are also serious consequences for Catalonia and the upcoming trial of the nine politicians and grassroots activists who have remained in jail for over a year without trial on charges of rebellion and the misuse of public funds. Vox was not alone in focusing on Catalonia: both Ciudadanos and the Popular Party also focused on the need to quash the Catalan independence movement and to defend the unity of Spain.
Yet the victory of the extreme right also has its roots in the long reign of the Socialist Party in Andalusia, which has led to the abuse of power on a number of fronts. Their time in power in the region became marred by corruption crises and an inability to solve the region’s longstanding economic problems, not the least unemployment. Two former Socialist premiers of Andalusia, José Antonio Griñán and Manuel Chaves, are currently on trial over allegations relating to illegal severance payments to laid-off workers. In this sense, Andalusia’s regional election is Spain’s Brexit moment, when left-behind communities give their political class a wake up call.
Yet it is the Catalan issue that adds a particular dimension to this result. Sánchez’s Socialist government has been punished for its dependence on the Catalan regional parties to pass the budget and other legislation. It might well have to call an early election in 2019, though with some of the jailed Catalan independence leaders now on hunger strike as a backdrop, political uncertainty looks likely to continue in Spain. More
We live in a moment in which the word “populism” is never far from the lips of politicians (although oh so rarely of the populist politicians themselves). We hear the word repeated over and over, but once we try to get a handle on what it actually means, confusion abounds. There are a few good […] More
After an unofficial referendum in October 2017, the pro-independence political parties in the Catalan parliament unilaterally declared independence from Spain. In response, the Spanish government invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which effectively suspended the region’s autonomy. More than a year on from these events, ousted Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont remains in exile in […] More
German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week announced she would not stand for re-election again, after being a towering figure in European politics for more than a decade. An enormously popular leader at her peak, in recent state elections it became all too clear that Merkel had become an electoral liability for her party. She had […] More
We’ve taken our cue for this episode of The Anthill podcast from the Cambridge Festival of Ideas – the theme for which in 2018 is extremes. As the organisers point out, it really does feel like we’re living in an age where the world is growing more and more extreme. Far-right political extremism is on […] More
Sweden is recovering after a very tense election night. The centre-right and the centre-left blocs have effectively secured very similar shares of the vote, but neither have come away with quite enough leverage to form a strong government alone.
The far-right Sweden Democrats, a niche party campaigning on a nationalist agenda, registered its highest electoral score to date. Under different circumstances, its vote share of around 4.7% would put it in the position of kingmaker. However, the mainstream parties are extremely reluctant to work with the group, because of its nationalist, exclusivist values.
The preliminary results suggest the Sweden Democrats have fallen short of expectation and that voters have not been as receptive to their anti-immigration rhetoric as it may have seemed. Polls put the party as high as 24% before the election but they collected less than that, 17.6%.
All the smaller parties, except the Greens, improved on their 2014 results at the expense of the two larger parties. The Centre Party, meanwhile, has achieved its best result in 30 years, increasing its share of the vote from 6.1% in the last election in 2014 to 8.6%. The Centre Party had a strong social media campaign, a prominent leader (Annie Lööf) and an agenda with a pro-tolerance, anti-SD message and strong on the environment. The Left Party was happy to take 7.9% of the vote, a 2.2% increase on previous form.
The two large parties have lost votes in a further fragmentation of the party system. The Conservatives were the biggest losers, down 3.5% compared to 2014. Even if they remain the second largest party in the country they appear to have been punished for their embracing a stricter policy on migration and integration in line with that of the Sweden Democrats.
The Social Democrats, who have governed as part of a centre-left coalition with the Greens since the last election, remain the largest party with about 28.4% of the votes. While this performance was much better than predicted in pre-election polls, it is the party’s poorest result since 1908. Nevertheless, prime minister Stefan Löfven did not resign on election night, citing the need for stability.
Now, with a deeply fragmented result, talks must begin to try to work out how to form a government. As Löfven declared on election night, it’s the end of bloc politics in Sweden. Until now, it was relatively easy to form ideologically coherent alliances to govern but the arithmetic is much harder this time. Minority governments are not new in Sweden, since it operates under the principle of negative parliamentarism. This means that a minority can govern, as long as it doesn’t have a majority against it in the Riksdag.
Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson reacts to results on the night. EPA
However, the situation created by these results is new. The distribution of votes means that any minority government would either have to somehow secure support from a party in the opposite bloc or work with the Sweden Democrats.
Despite their successes, the Sweden Democrats remain an unlikely coalition partner for the other parties. The only possible way to form a successful governing coalition, therefore, would be for the parties to secure support from their ideological opponents. Speculation about viable options includes a combination of the Social Democrats, the Centre Party and Liberal Party, with parliamentary support from the Greens and the Left Party. On the centre right, the Conservatives could potentially work with the Liberals, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats. However, it would need some parliamentary support from the Social Democrats.
Some trends are European others, quintessentially Swedish. EPA
This fragmentation is part of a wider trend of political volatility in Europe. Smaller parties are gaining ground at the expense of the larger players. Many Swedes have switched parties since the last election, yet one exit poll suggested that the Sweden Democrats had held on to 86% of their 2014 voters, while attracting former Conservatives and Social Democrats.
In contrast, the Social Democrats succeeded in keeping only 66% of their voters from the previous elections, whereas the Conservatives haemorrhaged voters, retaining only half of their 2014 electorate. More Swedes than ever split their ballot: 30% chose different parties at the local, regional and national levels. This suggests that political identity is being diluted. One no longer defines oneself as a social democrat so much as votes for the party based on contextual factors.
But it’s also interesting to note that immigration may not have turned out to be quite such an important factor to voters than expected. An exit poll ranking the issues citizens placed at the top of their agenda saw classic welfare topics such as healthcare, education, gender equality, law and order and elderly care come out on top. Migration and asylum came only eighth on the list. That might explain why the Sweden Democrats didn’t perform as well as predicted. It could also be read as a damning verdict on the current government, which appears to have failed to deliver the quality of public services Swedes expect.
Negotiating the formation of a new government will certainly be hard work but Sweden does not look like a country on the brink of collapse. These results were predicted, as were the subsequent talks among the parties. The two largest parties are open to discussions and the smaller parties have also expressed their intention to negotiate and find a solution for the common good.
Jimmie Åkesson, the Sweden Democrats leader, has already spoken of his willingness to play a role in a government collaboration with the Conservatives and the Christian Democrats. So far, he has been rebuffed, but depending on the final vote count, there may be some give, especially since at the local level almost all parties have already been working together with the Sweden Democrats for some time.
But, ultimately, the far right’s gains have not been sufficient to put it in a position to push as hard as it might on its agenda. Like IKEA, Swedish politics will probably remain defined by its two strongest features: modular and pragmatic. More