The “second round of the general elections,” as Pablo Iglesias described Sunday’s European and municipal vote, was a bitter pill to swallow for the Podemos leader.
While the PSoE confirmed its undisputed hegemony, coming first in 10 of the 12 regions where voting took place and sending 20 MEPs to the Socialist group in Brussels (more than any other country), Podemos lost everywhere. It lost its most well-known mayors, in Barcelona and Madrid, and their support is no longer necessary for the Socialists to control the local governments in many autonomous communities, in some of which the PSoE received absolute majorities that had been considered impossible.
The leadership of Unidas Podemos was hoping to bring its victories and its power in the territories to the table in the coming negotiations with Pedro Sánchez, in which they already started off at a disadvantage. Today, however, even though it still holds 35 seats in Congress, the party that wanted to “storm the heavens” is weaker than it has ever been.
And now, with the next election dates far off, it’s time for a proper reckoning: there are louder and louder calls for Iglesias’s resignation, while within Izquierda Unida (Podemos’s alliance partner), the only one of the party’s candidates to win a mayoral race in a provincial capital, the new mayor of Zamora, who received an absolute majority without Podemos, is asking his party colleagues to rethink their coalition with Podemos.
Íñigo Errejón, one of Podemos’s founders, is blaming this electoral debacle on the rigidity of his former party. As for Iglesias—the only political leader whose complete silence on Sunday evening spoke volumes—he held the first press conference after the elections on Monday, in which he acknowledged the bad results, but still insisted that there should be a coalition government with his party, both at the national level and in regions and municipalities where possible. “When we are divided and we fight, it doesn’t work,” he said, in an aside aimed at Errejón. “We will not surrender,” he added.
But the PSoE now has an easy path to ignore Podemos’s request, as it has gained much more political weight than it had a month ago. The Socialists are so confident that they are again embracing the option of a single-party minority government, and they are asking Ciudadanos to let go of their cordon sanitaire against Sánchez and collaborate with the PSoE to prevent the corrupt politicians of the right-wing Partido Popular from being able to govern in Madrid with Vox. And, as everyone knows, they would not mind at all if Ciudadanos were to show a more open attitude in Congress as well, where the PSoE would have a comfortable majority with their support.
Meanwhile, the extreme-right Vox has seen its score almost halved compared to a month ago (from 10% to 6%), but now it has members in almost all local parliaments and administrations. The party is now raising the stakes: it will no longer agree to support the PP “from afar,” as it did in Andalusia, but it wants to have political weight and explicit political recognition.
While the PP has shown no hesitation in acceding to these demands, some in Ciudadanos have balked at the prospect. Although it has improved its score compared to the results of the previous municipal, regional and European elections, Ciudadanos has clearly not succeeded in its bid to defeat the PP on the right, and this may call into question its strategy of a hard-right turn in recent months, resulting in a renewed openness towards different political orientations.
Meanwhile, the PP is breathing a sigh of relief: to have “saved” Madrid, taken control of the capital and stopped the inexorable march of Ciudadanos is a shot in the arm for Pablo Casado, the PP leader who was on the verge of resigning a month ago.