Oct 21, 2012
PEstrada

Election Day

This week-end there are three local electoral exercises around the world: Galicia, Spain; the Basque Country, Spain; and the West Bank, Palestine. In each case, there are stakes that can have a direct impact on the maintenance and construction of a national project, something that does not come about very frequently in local elections. What about them?

1.

Galicia is an Autonomous Community (name for the first subnational administrative divisions in Spain) north of Portugal. In spite of the harsh economic crisis that Spain is facing now, Galicia has performed not as badly as the rest of the country (its unemployment rate is 21%, whereas that of Spain is 25%). One explanatory factor is that Galicia is at the source of a large proportion of Spain’s foreign investment. Two of its champion companies, so to say, are INDITEX, the owner of the clothes store Zara, and Unión Fenosa, the owner of Gas Natural, one of the main providers of natural gas in Latin America.

Another feature of Galicia is that recently it has been closely linked to the contested government of Mariano Rajoy. He is a Galician, he is a long-time friend of the President of Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, and their Popular Party (PP) has ruled there for 25 years. Even more, the press has presented the Galician election as a kind of referendum on Rajoy’s project, as the policies both politicians have implemented are similar in their design and consequences. In Galicia there have been unpopular reductions of public spending, with the double-faced consequence of keeping the accounts in order so as to prevent the government from asking for rescue from Spain’s central financial authorities, along with an increase in unemployment. Fortunately for Núñez, the Galician opposition has not come up with an alternative that can convince local electors to vote for them. Polls suggest that the PP will get 44.1% of the vote (38 seats in the local Parliament) against 28.2% (23 or 24 seats) for the Socialist Party (PS). So, if we buy the argument that the Galician election is a referendum for Rajoy’s national project, the conclusion would be that people indeed will support him.

2.

However, Rajoy’s national project is far from being gladly accepted in all of Spain. Look at the Basque Country elections. The main opposition of the PP in Spain, the PS, which currently rules this autonomous community, will lose office according to polling projections. However, this will be in favor not of the PP, but of the Nationalist Basque Party (PNV) whose leader, Íñigo Urkullu, has commented that more eventual autonomy for the Basque Country will certainly translate into better economic performance and an improvement in the well-being of the Basques.

In addition, the PNV will fall short of achieving a majority in the Parliament, reason for which it will have to choose a government partner. More likely than not, analysts suggest it will be the other nationalist party, Bildu, which has had to undertake a campaign to demonstrate that it no longer maintains close ties to the apparently disbanded terrorist organization ETA and that it can be trusted as a serious political force. One of the issues on which they might work together is to organize the referendum for more autonomy, which tentatively would take place in 2015. What clearer sign of rejection of Rajoy’s national project could there be than claiming more autonomy for a subnational government?

3.

On Saturday, Palestinians living in the West Bank went to the polls. However, it has been pointed out by the press that this was not such a democratic exercise, given that the ruling party, Fatah, ran uncontested in many of the villages (the Washington Post estimates 250 out of 350) holding elections. A key reason for this is a conflict that began in 2006 between Fatah and its main competitor, Hamas, over the control of the Gaza Strip. That year Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, the reason for which international aid stopped. Trying to recover it, both parties agreed to form a coalition government, but Hamas expelled Fatah officials working in the Gaza Strip, which in turn provoked Fatah to expel Hamas representatives from the West Bank. Ever since then there has been no contact between those two parties, mutually making accusations of harassment and intimidation of their members and supporters.

Elections should have also taken place in the Gaza Strip, but Hamas did not allow it. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, expressed disappointment for the elections not taking place in the Gaza Strip. Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhum, commented that holding elections just in the West Bank gave “no significance or legitimacy” to the results. This deadlock is directly reflected in the functioning of the Palestinian national government, de facto paralyzed. And, paraphrasing one candidate, municipal governments can do little to replace the role of the state in the construction of a national project.

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