Spain conservative leader in dock as Galicia holds election

Spain conservative leader in dock as Galicia holds election

MADRID (AFP): Spain’s northwestern Galicia region votes Sunday in a tight election that could see the country’s opposition conservative party lose control of its traditional stronghold in a blow for its leader.

The Popular Party (PP) has governed Galicia since 2009, winning majorities in each of the last four elections under Alberto Nunez Feijoo who in 2022 left the rural region of some 2.7 million residents to become national party leader.

The first opinion polls published in January suggested the PP was on track for another victory but the race has since tightened with surveys suggesting the party could lose its absolute majority in the 75-seat regional parliament.

That would open the door to a coalition between the surging left-wing nationalist BNG party and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists, which govern at the national level in a minority coalition that relies on the support of smaller regional parties to pass legislation.

The election comes as Feijoo is under fire after he announced last weekend he was in favour of granting a conditional pardon to the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont over his role in the region’s failed 2017 independence push, and had even studied “for 24 hours” an amnesty for separatists before ruling it out.

Yet under his leadership, the PP has consistently blasted Sanchez for offering an amnesty to Puigdemont and hundreds of other Catalan separatists in exchange for parliamentary support from two Catalan separatist groups to be able to form a new government following July’s inconclusive national elections.

Feijoo has repeatedly called the controversial amnesty — which still must be approved by parliament — a “humiliation” and the PP has staged large demonstrations against it.

The apparent U-turn has upset members of his party and left him open to accusations of hypocrisy.

“In the morning he negotiates a rally and pardons and in the afternoon, he protests against the separatists,” Sanchez said Thursday at a campaign rally in Galicia.

Polls opened at 9 am (0800 GMT) and will close at 8 pm, with official results expected several hours later.

‘Obvious’ implications
If the PP loses its absolute majority in Galicia, Feijoo’s hold on the party will weaken.

It already took a hit after the PP won the most seats in Spain’s early general election in July but then Feijoo was unable to cobble together a working majority in parliament to form a government, giving Sanchez a lifeline to stay on despite his Socialists having finished second.

A defeat in Galicia for the PP would have “clear and obvious” implications on Feijoo’s leadership of the party, Jose Pablo Ferrandiz, a director at pollster Ipsos, told Spanish public television TVE last week.

The PP has governed Galicia for 36 of the 42 years it has existed under Spain’s post-dictatorship system of autonomous regional governments.

The region located above Portugal is one of Spain’s most conservative. It was the birthplace of long-time dictator Francisco Franco and his right-hand man Manuel Fraga, as well former PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy.

Feijoo has warned that a victory for the BNG would bring the “social rupture” seen in Catalonia, which is governed by separatist parties, to Galicia.

“Don’t let nationalism come to this land, there is no territory where it has gone well,” he said during a final campaign rally on Friday.

The BNG, led by Ana Ponton, has made language a key issue, campaigning on promises to boost the use of the regional Galician language in public education and civil service.