Spain’s opposition conservative People’s party (PP) is heading for an emphatic win in Sunday’s key regional and municipal elections, winning an absolute majority in the city of Madrid and in the surrounding area.
It is poised to wrest the regions of Valencia, Aragón and the Balearic islands from the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE).
The PP’s triumph, which comes after a bitter and fractious campaign marred by a row over the defunct Basque terrorist organisation Eta and allegations of electoral fraud, will serve as a huge boost to the party ahead of December’s general election.
The results of the polls in 12 regions and more than 8,000 municipal councils also indicate a return to the traditional, two-party system that dominated Spanish politics before the eruption of the far-left, anti-austerity Podemos and the now moribund centre-right Citizens party.
By 11.30pm local time, with more than 98% of the municipal votes counted, the PP had attracted 31.5% of the vote and won 23,248 council seats, while the PSOE had taken 28.1% of the vote and won 20,676 seats.
The incumbent PP mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, secured an absolute majority in the capital, while his party also won the most seats on the city councils of Seville, Segovia, Valencia and Palma. With 60% of the votes counted in the Madrid region, the PP had won 69 seats in the 136-seat regional parliament, giving its rightwing populist regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, an absolute majority.
The party was also ahead in the regions of Aragón, Valencia, the Balearics and La Rioja.
In Barcelona, the city’s leftwing mayor, Ada Colau, was relegated to third place after Xavier Trias, a former mayor who belongs to the centre-right Catalan pro-independence party Junts, finished first and Jaume Collboni, of the Catalan branch of the PSOE, came second.
Cuca Gamarra, a spokesperson for the PP, said the results were irrefutable proof of Spain’s desire for change.
“The Spanish people have spoken and they have spoken clearly and forcefully – and what they have said today is that the People’s party has won the municipal and regional elections,” she said.
The PSOE spokesperson, Pilar Alegría, struck a penitent note, saying that the party had received the electorate’s message, adding: “This isn’t what we’d been hoping for after these weeks of campaigning and obviously we will have to reflect [on what happened] over the coming months.” But she also warned that the PP would only be able to take power in some of its newly won regions if it struck deals with the far-right Vox party.
Although the PP already governs the Castilla and León region with Vox, entering into any new regional pacts would allow the left to paint the PP as a party that is prepared to abandon the centre ground and make deals with the far right for the sake of winning power.
Despite the elections’ regional and local nature, the PP had sought to use the polls as a referendum on the Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, and his style of government, which it calls sanchismo and depicts as incompetent, over-reaching and hellbent on remaining in office.
“These aren’t just elections to choose a mayor or a regional government,” the PP leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, said during an end-of-campaign rally on Friday.
“Sanchismo has stained everything and I’m afraid to have to say, respectfully but sadly, that the prime minister of my country has no limits. His party has been unable to stop him and so we must do so together as Spaniards.”
Sánchez struck a less combative note after casting his vote on Sunday morning, urging people to ignore the rows of recent days and to vote calmly.
“It’s very important that we all go and vote and that we do so in a positive way, forgetting this intolerance, this noise, this depreciation and these tensions that a minority are trying to stoke,” he said. “I’m convinced that the majority of citizens will vote positively, respectfully and thoughtfully.”
Sánchez began the campaign hoping to stress his coalition government’s economic record, housing reforms and schemes to help young people.
But the first week of the campaign descended into rancorous fights over the past, after it emerged that the Basque nationalist party EH Bildu – on whose support the minority government relies in Congress – was fielding 44 convicted Eta members, including seven people found guilty of violent crimes, as candidates.
Sánchez criticised Bildu’s decision – describing it as legal but “obviously indecent” – and the Basque party later announced that the seven candidates convicted for violence would not take up their seats, but the PP seized on the issue as further proof of the government’s hunger to remain in power.
Feijóo attacked Sánchez for his reliance on Bildu and Catalan pro-independence parties – and for the bungled sexual offences legislation, introduced by his junior coalition partners in Podemos, that has allowed more than 1,000 convicted sex offenders to have their sentences cut and more than 100 to win early release.
“You’re the great electoral hope for rapists and pederasts, for mutineers, squatters, corrupt people and now for those who used to go about in balaclavas with pistols,” he told Sánchez. “And I will never be that.”
Sánchez said the PP’s tired reliance on the spectre of a vanished terrorist group was proof of its lack of electoral initiatives. “What’s your proposal on housing?” he asked the party. “Eta. In other words, nothing. On education? Eta. In other words, nothing. On the climate emergency? Eta. In other words, nothing.
“When Eta is nothing in Spain, it is still everything to you. Because, in your desperation, Eta is all you have, even though it doesn’t exist.”
Spats over Eta were followed by fears of electoral fraud after police in Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla arrested 10 people suspected of participating in an alleged postal vote-buying fraud. Seven others were detained on suspicion of vote-buying in the Andalucían town of Mojácar, while police were also investigating possible fraud in the Canary Islands and the Murcia region.