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March 11, 2021

Europe

SPAIN: National consequences of regional political earthquake

BY Antonio Barroso

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Ciudadanos’ decision to file a motion of no confidence against the People’s Party (PP)-led government in the Murcia region on 10 March has triggered political ripples across the country. Shortly after the move, Madrid region President Isabel Diaz Ayuso decided to break her coalition with Ciudadanos and call a snap poll. From a national standpoint, the events are unlikely to significantly affect the standing of the ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE)-Unidas Podemos coalition in the short term. A key signpost to watch is how regional political changes might impact the competition for the hegemony of the right between the People’s Party (PP) and VOX.

Despite Diaz Ayuso’s move, it is still unclear whether Madrid’s regional election will actually be held. Shortly after her announcement, PSOE and left-wing party Mas Madrid filed a motion of no confidence against the regional government to stop the snap poll. Ultimately, a court will have to decide which of the two actions prevails and whether early elections will be held on 4 May.

While Ciudadanos’ decision to break with the PP in Murcia and ally with PSOE seems to be motivated by local issues, Ciudadanos have failed to contain the impact beyond the small southern region. In addition to Madrid’s events, PSOE has also filed a no-confidence motion in Castile-Leon against the PP-Ciudadanos regional government, which is unlikely to be successful. In other regions such as Andalusia, the PP and Ciudadanos are also likely to stick together.

Political flux

The regional events of the last 24 hours are connected to the ongoing fragmentation that has characterized Spanish politics since 2015. The recent electoral decline of Ciudadanos has progressively led its leadership to try pursuing the role of kingmaker between PSOE and PP (as opposed to an enabler of PP-led governments only). This shift creates an incentive for PSOE to exploit the divisions of the center-right by filing motions of no confidence in other regions. Moreover, high electoral volatility also leads parties to believe they can easily steal voters away from competitors. This situation explains, for instance, why Diaz Ayuso has taken the risk of calling an early election.

In any case, the events are likely to have a limited impact on national politics. At this stage, Ciudadanos’ move is unlikely to translate into more permanent cooperation with the national government in the Congress of Deputies. In addition to Ciudadanos’ reduced number of MPs (ten), Podemos is strongly against any agreement with Ines Arrimadas’ party, as it believes it would undermine its own leftist stance. A key signpost to watch is whether Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez takes advantage of Podemos’ weakness to push for stronger cooperation with Ciudadanos, which would lead to renewed tensions within the ruling coalition.

Another long-term signpost to monitor is the ongoing competition for the hegemony of the Spanish right. The decline of Ciudadanos has raised concerns about the concurrent rise of far-right party VOX. However, Diaz Ayuso remains a popular candidate within the right. A good performance of the PP vis-à-vis VOX in a potential regional election in Madrid could eventually generate a positive dynamic for the center-right party across the country.

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