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Winds of change could be on the way as Galician parliamentary elections take place

17 Feb 2024 6 minute read
BNG leader Ana Ponton

Luke James

With its green mountains and valleys flanked by a wild coast, parallels are often drawn between the geography of Galicia and Wales but our political landscapes bear little resemblance.

While Labour in Wales has achieved the longest winning streak of any party in the world, it is the conservatives which have topped the polls in each of the 11 elections to the Galician parliament since the end of the Franco dictatorship.

The country has also produced three of the five presidents of the Popular Party (PP), Spain’s conservative opposition, including its current leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo and its last Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy.

But the political wind on the Atlantic coast could be about to turn, according to polling ahead of Sunday’s Galician parliamentary elections.

The PP is still on track to win more votes than any other party but could fall short of the 38 seats needed for the majority it has held since 2009.

Conservatives

The conservatives are expected to win 42 per cent of the vote, which would give it between 34 and 38 seats, according to the results of a poll of 4,000 voters published this week by Spain’s public research institute, the Centre for Sociological Research.

Achieving anything other than the highest end of that estimation would open the door to an alternative coalition government between the Galician National Bloc (BNG) and the Socialist party of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

“One of the main hypotheses for the PP’s historic strength in Galicia is that their strategy until recently was to amalgamate a self-crafted image as good managers of the economy with a culturalist regionalist approach,” said Professor Helena Miguelez-Carballeira, director of the Centre for Galician Studies at Bangor University.

Privatisation

More recently however “their strong privatisation policies in the health sector, depletion of public services and connivance with extractivist transnational companies in the mining and renewable energy sectors have created significant social contestation,” she added.

“The BNG is capitalising on this and leading a wave of social dissatisfaction with the PP policies.”

The BNG were junior coalition partners to the Socialists the last time the PP fell short of a majority – by just one seat in 2005.

This time it’s the BNG which could take the presidency of the Galician government, known as the Xunta.

The left-wing nationalists on course to win 33 per cent of the vote, which would give it between 24 and 31 seats, compared to the 18 per cent and 9 to 14 seats predicted for the Socialists.

That would complete an incredible turnaround in fortunes for the BNG, which finished fourth with just seven seats in the 2012 and 2016 elections.

Split

The poor results came after a 2012 split, which saw the BNG’s former leader Xosé Manuel Beiras create his own breakaway party, Anova.

Along with Podemos, Anova was part of the left-wing En Marea coalition which finished second in the 2016 elections.

Since then, Podemos has fallen apart while the BNG has enjoyed a revival under its popular leader Ana Ponton, who last month healed the 12-year wound in the Galician movement by striking a symbolic election pact with Anova.

“She has a special ability to find consensus and an optimistic way of doing politics,” Ana Miranda, the BNG member of the European Parliament, told Nation.Cymru of Ponton.

“She took a party in 2016 that was split, in third place, with a lot of debt, and she has brought unity and hope.

“The press predicted that we would lose all of our deputies in the 2016 elections. Finally, we ended up with six and then, in 2020, we passed to 19 seats.

“It was amazing because she was expecting a baby and in the last month of the pregnancy during the campaign.

“I think that the impact of Ana Ponton is that now she’s more than the BNG, she is like a Lula in Brazil.”

After studying political science at the University of Santiago de Compostela, she was elected to the Galician parliament at the age of 26 and became the BNG group’s spokesperson in 2012 before being elected the first female party leader in 2016.

First female president

Now her sights are set on becoming Galicia’s first female president and the polls show she is already the most popular politician in Galicia, ahead of the PP incumbent, Alfonso Rueda, who is standing for re-election on Sunday.

When asked which leader they thought was most concerned with Galicia’s problems, 39 per cent of voters said Ponton compared to 31 per cent for Rueda.

The PP has fought back by trying to paint the BNG as extremists.

“No Guardia Civil [Spanish militarised police], school 100 per cent in Galician and a referendum on secession,” was the headline of an article on the BNG in the right-wing El Espanol newspaper this week.

The BNG have though turned the attacks into adverts designed to show voters the PP are trying to distract attention from the real issues.

“The campaign of the PP, who have a lot of connections with the extreme right, has only been attacking us,” said Miranda. “But the effect has been the contrary.”

“Our campaign is based on core issues like health. With the PP, we have another 124 medical centres without doctors. We will recover education and social policy for Galicia because, with the PP, we lost a lot of industry.”

Constitutional changes

The devolution of more powers over maritime security and transport will be the only constitutional change sought by a first-term BNG-led government, she added.

The BNG are up four points in the polls since last month at the expense of the PP and the Socialists.

Almost a third of voters who backed the Socialists in the last elections say they will vote BNG this time.

Sumar, their only competitors on the left of the Socialist party, are predicted to win a maximum of two seats despite the fact the formation’s leader, Yolanda Diaz, is herself from Galicia.

“Without a doubt, the tranquil charisma of Ana Pontón has played a part,” said Professor Helena Miguelez-Carballeira of the BNG’s polling.

“The BNG’s electoral campaign is proving quite magnificent, with its focus on positive emotions such as hope, pride, empathy, and optimism.

“This is mobilising the younger voters, but also, as the polls may be suggesting, large swathes of the Galician population who had not voted for the BNG in the past.

“There is an understanding that for this to become reality votes need to concentrate on the BNG.”

With much of the BNG’s support among young people, turnout will be crucial to the final result.

Ponton used the closing rally of her campaign to appeal for a “massive mobilisation so that no vote for change stays at home.”

Speaking to 2,000 people in the Galician capital on Friday evening, she said: “This February 18, let’s go out with all our strength to win a better Galicia, the one we want and deserve.”


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Adrian Meagher
Adrian Meagher
2 months ago

I learnt from this article that there is a Centre for Galician Studies at Bangor University. I learnt from Wikipedia that Galicia uses a closed list D’Hondt proportional system to elect members to its National Assembly, similar to what is proposed for Senedd Cymru. Surely there is an opportunity here for nation.cymru to commission an article giving a Galician view on the closed-list D’Hondt system with reference to the political similarities and differences between Galicia and Cymru.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Meagher

Yes, such an article would be a great idea.

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