Andalusia Election May Hint at Shape of Spain’s 2016 Coalition

The regional ballot in Andalusia on Sunday will be a testing ground for insurgent parties shaking up the political order in Spain and offer a guide to the alliances that may emerge after the general election at year end.

While the Socialists who’ve governed Spain’s biggest region for the past 34 years will probably win the most votes, they are set to fall short of an outright majority, polls show. With support for its junior ally till January, the United Left, plunging, Socialist Leader Susana Diaz may have to align with Podemos, the anti-austerity party leading in national polls, or Ciudadanos, the pro-market group growing by luring traditional voters from Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party.

Whichever option Diaz picks will set a precedent for the next national government, with voters likely to elect the most fragmented parliament since Spain returned to democracy in 1978.

“The aftermath of the election will provide a signpost of the main parties’ coalition-making strategies going forward,” said Antonio Barroso, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. “While parties may find it difficult to agree on any gesture to give stability to the most voted list, the negotiations could give a good indication of the scenario we could see in Madrid after the general elections.”

Spanish voters are heading into an electoral marathon to choose 15 regional presidents, more than 8,000 mayors and a new national government by the end of the year. Andalusia, which kicks off the process this weekend, has a higher unemployment rate than Greece, where Podemos’s ally Syriza won power in January after promising to raise public spending in defiance of its bailout agreement.

Poll Numbers

“It is the first test of the potential for the left to have real support going into the next election,” said Simone Pecoretti, head of the government bond desk at Fideuram Asset Management in Dublin. “That’s a story that can be more and more relevant during the year given what is going on in Greece.”

The Socialists have the support of 36.7 percent of voters in the region, enough to win 45 representatives in the 109-seat parliament, according to a Metroscopia survey published by El Pais newspaper on March 16. Podemos is set to win 15 seats while Ciudadanos will get 12, according to the poll of 3,200 people conducted between March 5 and March 11. The margin for error was 1.8 percent.

The PP’s representation is set to fall to 29 seats from the 50 it won in 2011. Still, with more than 20 percent of voters yet to decide how they’ll vote the result of the contest remains unclear, according to Metroscopia’s survey.

“Until now we have been living in a big polls bubble,” Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said. “So the elections will let us know how resilient the establishment parties are.”

Socialists’ Problems

Diaz’s search for a coalition partner may be complicated by the corruption allegations dogging her party. Several members, including two of her predecessors as regional president, are subject to a court investigation into the alleged misuse of unemployment subsidies between 2000 and 2011.

“We’ll be in the government only if we win the elections,” Juan Carlos Girauta, a member of the European Parliament for Ciudadanos, said in an interview in Barcelona. “If not, we will go to the opposition where we will favor or block the government depending on compliance with a set threshold of transparency and ethics, including the expulsion of the two former presidents who are being investigated.”

The resilience of the Socialist vote in Andalusia contrasts with rest of the country. The party, which has governed Spain for about 22 of the past 33 years, now controls only two of the country’s 17 regions and has seen its support on a national level fall to record lows.

The Socialists’ general secretary, Pedro Sanchez, has struggled to revive the party’s fortunes since winning a leadership contest last July and Diaz’s strength in Andalusia has fueled speculation she may challenge him to become the party’s candidate for prime minister later this year.

The result could “play into a wider internal debate” within the Socialists about “the relative positioning of Diaz,” said Nick Greenwood, a Madrid-based analyst at Analistas Financieros Internacionales.

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