The result of Sunday’s regional elections in northern Spain has given Madrid a bit of breathing space and support for the austerity measures needed to put the fifth largest economy in the European Union back on track.
But it has also given the conservative government a bit of a headache when it comes to Spain’s continued unity.
Galicia and the Basque Country are both regions in northern Spain, they both held regional elections on Sunday (21 October), and they both have their own language – apart from the Spanish Castellan – Galician and Basque. But that is just about where the similarities between the two regions end.
The past year’s austerity measures taken by the current Spanish government – led by President Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right Partido Popular – got the thumbs up in Galicia.
Partido Popular (PP) has held comfortable wins at the ballot boxes most of the period since Spain regained democracy at the end of the 1970s. But it was feared that voters in Galicia would take their anger of Madrid’s severe budget cuts out at the polls, as it happened at the regional election in Andalusia in March when the Social Democrats defeated PP.
The fears were unfounded and PP has even increased its absolute majority gaining 41 (previously 38) seats out of 75 in the Galician Parliament. The reason for the result has also been given to the sound leadership of Alberto Núñez Feijóo in the previous four years in Galicia.
The election in the Basque Country, however, turned out as expected – or rather, as feared by the government in Madrid. Two out of three lawmakers in the Basque Parliament are now Basque nationalists – 48 seats out of 75.
It was the first ever elections in the region without the threat of armed separatist group ETA, which last year decided to end four decades of terrorism.
The moderate nationalist party PNV was the overall winner with 27 seats, and is set to form a minority government in Vitoria, the capital of the Basque Country, led by Iñigo Urkullu – the likely new lehendakari (leader of the Basque government).
PNV backs further regional autonomy from Madrid, but Urkullu also promised in the election rally to bring a new law on Basque independence to a referendum in 2015. EH Bildu – a left radical separatist party – was the second winner at the Basque election with 21 seats, the highest since it was created in 1998.
In both regions the Socialist Party has lost votes [okay, another similarity between the two regions], which is a severe blow to the Spanish opposition leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. However, for the Spanish PP government, which is already leading with an absolute majority in the Spanish Parliament, it is a bit of breathing space and a much needed confidence boost to go ahead with further austerity measures.
But Rajoy can hardly relax for long. Spain is in its second recession since the crisis began in 2008; an economic bailout of the country is imminent; another general strike is set for November 14th; and the separatists in Catalonia are expected to win the elections on November 25th.