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Five key takeaways from Spain's regional and local elections

Conor Faulkner
Conor Faulkner - [email protected]
Five key takeaways from Spain's regional and local elections
Five key takeaways from Spain's regional and local elections. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's PSOE suffered a bruising set of results in Sunday's local and regional votes. Here are the main takeaways from the results.


Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's Socialist party (PSOE) suffered heavy losses across the country at both the regional and municipal level on Sunday, with right-wing rivals Partido Popular (PP) taking symbolic provincial capitals and his junior coalition partner in government, Unidas Podemos, plummeting to near irrelevance.

The results are also noticeable for the solidification of far-right party Vox's position as Spain's third party, establishing it as a potential political kingmaker, and for the all but confirmed political extinction of centrists Ciudadanos.

The big winners of Sunday's elections, which saw PSOE losses across the country at a regional and municipal level, are PP and its leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo. The PP leader played a visible role in the campaigns and framed them as a personal battle between himself and Sánchez with the general election in mind.

READ ALSO: Spanish right surges in local polls, dealing blow to Sánchez 

Feijóo has called the results, which even saw PP win the political bellwether region and town hall of Valencia, as well as Seville, as the start of "a new political cycle". 

Digesting the results the morning after the night before, the Spanish press have roundly declared the 'blue wave' of PP, calling the victory an 'anti-Sánchez tsunami' and a political sea change that leaves the Spanish left "on the edge of the abyss". 


The results are viewed by most political commentators in Spain as a precursor to the general election, with the scene now seemingly set for a return of the Spanish right to government.

Here are five key takeaways from Sunday's elections.

1. PP make big gains

The results at both regional and municipal levels are undoubtedly good for PP. The centre-right party won 31 percent of the votes at the municipal level, as well as winning seven of the twelve regional governments that were up for election. 

In Melilla and La Rioja, PP won absolute majorities, though in most other regions will likely be forced to rely on the support of Vox to govern.

At a municipal level, the PP now controls 30 of the 52 provincial capitals, and won the symbolic town halls of both Valencia and Seville. Combined with Madrid, where Mayor José Luis-Martínez-Almeida won an overall majority, this means that PP control three of Spain's four major cities.

Importantly, PP didn't only win in their traditional heartlands, but also took control of, and even won absolute majorities, in municipalities and regions that had been governed by the Spanish left.

In Andalusia in particular, PP snatched all eight provincial capitals in the southern region, winning absolute majorities in Málaga, Cádiz and Granada, as well as stealing Seville from PSOE, a long-held Socialist party stronghold.

Clearly, the results at both a local and regional level indicate a rightward turn in Spanish politics and suggest that Feijóo will be Spain's next Prime Minister.


2. Rough night for PSOE

It was a rough night for supporters of Sánchez's PSOE. Despite being elections for regional executives and town halls, many had viewed these elections as a referendum on the Sánchez government.

Isabel Ayuso, the PP President of the Madrid region who was reelected with an emphatic majority, called the results a rejection of 'Sanchismo'.

The numbers aren't pretty - PSOE won just 28 percent of the vote at the municipal level, and won just four regional executives: Castilla-La Mancha, Asturias, the Canary Islands and Extremadura.

Opponents of Sánchez have long painted him as dependent on the support of separatist and extremist forces and tied PSOE to the regional separatist parties his government rely on in the Spanish Congress, as well as some of the controversial legislation of junior coalition partner Podemos.

PSOE have likely also suffered from general voter fatigue, especially after governing during a tumultuous period that has included the Covid-19 pandemic, cost of living crisis, and war in Ukraine.


3. Vox - political kingmakers?

The results are also notable for the steady solidification of far-right Vox as Spain's third political party. 

With Podemos nosediving in the polls and centrist Ciudadanos all but dead, Santiago Abascal's far-right party now sit securely as potential kingmakers of Spanish politics. Just like how it entered into a regional government for the first time last year in Castilla y León, Vox will now likely join coalitions with PP across the country at regional and local levels.

READ ALSO: Spain's far-right Vox sworn into regional government

Though PP and PSOE have dominated the headlines, Vox won more than one and a half million votes at the municipal level (double its 2019 result) and tripled its number of local councillors from 530 to 1,687.

At the regional level, Vox made gains in Valencia, Aragón, Balearic Islands, Murcia, Cantabria, Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, La Rioja, Navarre and the Canary Islands.

Vox will now have a big say in regional government as it is likely that Feijóo's PP would also need Vox to form a majority government on a national level.

But it isn't all good news for Feijóo. The former President of Galicia, Feijóo projects himself as a sensible moderate and has done his best to distance himself from some of the more divisive Vox rhetoric since taking over from scandal-laden former leader Pablo Casado in 2022.

Feijóo now has something of a balancing act to do until the general election: to continue appealing to the centre ground, in particular court the more centrist former Ciudadanos electoral base, whilst knowing that he could come to rely on Vox to form a government.

Doing this may prove tricky politically, especially when much of the PP 'anti-Sanchismo' campaign was directed at the PSOE government's reliance on far-left and regional separatist parties.


4. Podemos plummet

Another notable result of Sunday's votes is the trouncing of far-left Podemos, the junior coalition partner in government. The party failed to win representation in five of the twelve regions up for election, and lost more than two-thirds of its regional deputies, going from 47 to 14. 

Perhaps most symbolically, Podemos failed to win municipal representation in Madrid, its birthplace and the city where leader Ione Belarra and Equalities Minister Irene Montero focused much of their campaigning. 

The Spanish press has described the punishing results as making Podemos 'irrelevant'. The only region where Podemos improved its result was Navarre.

For many in Spain, the mistakes made over the flawed Podemos-pushed Solo sí es sí sexual consent and generally perceived radical positions on gender, abortion and other sociocultural issues, have made the Podemos brand toxic. 

READ ALSO: Why is Spain reducing prison sentences for rapists?

5. Cuidadanos dead in the water

The elections also confirmed the political extinction of the short-lived centrist party Ciudadanos, which failed to win representation in any of the regional executives or major cities.

The party now has only seven deputies, six in Catalonia and one in Castilla y León, regions that did not hold elections. At the local level, Ciudadanos won just 392 councillors, a whopping 2,395 less than in 2019.

This was expected, however, and the political consensus in Spain had for some time been that this latest round of polls would be the final nail in the coffin for Ciudadanos. Though it may not be breaking news, their final capitulation is significant in that the roughly two million votes lost have largely been absorbed by PP.

When combined with the growth of Vox and the fall of Podemos, Ciudadanos' demise strengthens PP's hand and aided the 'blue wave' narrative in the aftermath of the election. 


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