29th May 2023
By Brian Reyes and Maria Jesus Corrales
Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Monday announced a general election on July 23 after the Socialists and their main ally Podemos lost significant ground in Sunday’s local and regional elections.
Mr Sanchez brought forward the general election, which was due in December, after support for the conservative PP and the far-right party Vox surged in Sunday’s regional and municipal elections.
“Although yesterday's elections had a local and regional scope, the meaning of the vote conveys a message that goes beyond that,” Mr Sanchez said in a televised statement on Monday.
“That is why, as both prime minister and PSOE's secretary-general, I take personal responsibility for the results and I believe it’s necessary to respond and submit our democratic mandate to the popular will.”
The announcement of an imminent general election comes at a delicate time in the negotiation between the UK – with Gibraltar – and the EU for a treaty on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relations with the bloc.
After 13 formal rounds of talks and countless meetings in between, negotiators have yet to reach agreement on a deal that seeks to guarantee post-Brexit border fluidity and is seen by many as vital to the economic prosperity of Gibraltar and neighbouring Campo cities, particularly La Linea.
Spain is due to take on the EU presidency from July 1 but with the country’s parties now on an election footing, any significant progress ahead of the July 23 vote could be further hindered.
Potentially, the EU presidency may start with the PSOE as caretaker government and end with a new administration, with the PP leading in polls even ahead of Sunday’s results.
The treaty under negotiation is between the UK and the EU, but Brussels has said it will not agree anything without the agreement of Spain, which has played a key role in the talks.
The fear here will be that a change of government in Spain could further complicate a negotiation that has been fraught with difficulty from the outset, particularly if a future PP government needs to lean on Vox to obtain a majority in the Spanish parliament.
After Sunday, Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s PP is set to control eight of the 12 regions in Spain, including in Madrid and Valencia, with the party also winning three of Spain’s largest cities including Seville, traditionally a Socialist stronghold.
The strong performance on Sunday in part followed the collapse of the centre-right Ciudadanos party, which left conservative votes split between only the PP and Vox.
Across the country, the PP secured 31.5% of the vote, up from 22.6% in 2019 on a turnout of 64%, down 1% from the preceding local elections.
In contrast, the PSOE won 28.1% of the vote, down from 29.4% in 2019.
The far-right party Vox became the third most voted party with 7.2% of the vote across the country, up from 3.6% in 2019.
The results open up situations where Vox will hold the deciding votes in many regional government and councils across the country where the PP may not have majority presence.
All eyes now will be on how the PP and Vox work together to take control of regional governments and councils where the conservatives fall short of majorities to govern alone, while Mr Sanchez will seek to rally increasingly fragmented votes on the left.
In the Campo on Sunday, La Linea’s Juan Franco and Jose Ignacio Landaluce, the PP mayor of Algeciras, consolidated their positions with absolute majorities allowing them to govern their respective councils without the need for support from other parties.
Ahead of the local elections, there had been concern that Mr Landaluce’s PP, without an absolute majority, would have to lean on votes from Vox.
In the event though, PP improved its position in the Campo’s largest city from 13 councillors to 16 in the 27-seat council, two more than the 14 seats needed for the absolute majority, on a 48% turnout, just over 1% down from 2019.
After three terms running the council, Mr Landaluce’s PP registered a similar level of support as when it first swept into power in Algeciras in 2011, leaving it just shy of 17 seats in the council.
The PSOE dropped one seat in Algeciras to win seven councillors, while Vox, which had campaigned on an anti-immigration platform in a city with a large Muslim community, doubled its presence in the council to win four seats.
In La Linea, Mr Franco’s La Linea 100x100 scooped all but three seats in the 25-seat council on a turnout of 46.6%, just under one point down on 2019 turnout.
It was a resounding showing of support for a mayor who has worked in recent years attract investment to a city with staggering unemployment, including fostering strong links to Gibraltar.
“I think we’ve shown that we know how to manage the council and that we have transformed the city with important projects,” Mr Franco said on Monday.
“This doesn’t stop here and as from today we are donning our new work clothes.”
“We have a lot of challenges ahead of us and a lot of things we need to improve in our city, we are conscious of that.”
The PSOE, whose campaign in La Linea was led by former mayor Gemma Araujo, had lost one of its three councillors, while the PP retained its single seat.
On Sunday night, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo congratulated Mr Franco on his re-election and huge majority.
“I look forward to continuing to work with Juan on all matters on which Gibraltar and La Linea gave common concerns,” Mr Picardo said.
In San Roque, the PSOE led by Ruiz Boix maintained 11 councillors from 2019, allowing them to govern with a very narrow majority in a municipality with 21 council seats.
However, there was also a shift to the right in the municipality, where the PP retained five councillors but Vox entered the city council with one seat. Particularly noteworthy were the four councillors secured by San Roque 100x100, signalling appetite in the municipal election for hyper-local parties.
In Los Barrios, the current mayor, Fermín Alconchel, consolidated his eight councillors, but the PP also gained two councillors, reaching a total of four, and Vox entered the council with one seat.
The PSOE’s position was weakened after it lost one council seat, while Movimiento Barreño obtained one councillor.
In Tarifa, a change of municipal government is expected after the PSOE lost one councillor, leaving them with seven, while the PP gained two councillors.
Potentially then, the seven councillors from the PP and two from the localist party Nuevos Aires de Tarifa could form a governing coalition to oust socialist mayor Francisco Ruiz Giráldez from the city council.
The councillor from the left-wing coalition Para la Gente would not be enough for the PSOE to maintain control of the Tarifa government.
The results show how local parties have gained ground throughout the Campo to become key players, not only in La Línea or Los Barrios, where Alconchel's project is consolidated, but also in Tarifa, where it will be vital for the new government, and in San Roque, where it achieves significant representation.
In Jimena, the left-wing parties maintain their results, as the IU mayor retains his eight councillors, and the PSOE gains one, which the PP loses.
In Castellar, the PSOE led by Adrián Vaca gained one councillor, reaching a total of eight, while IU loses one.
The PP also has no representation in this stronghold of the left.
In Tesorillo, the results of its first elections in 2019 are repeated: seven councillors for IU, three for the PSOE, and one for the PP.