Gibraltar’s political parties have welcomed the Socialist victory in Spain’s general election on Sunday, even while striking a note of caution about future cross-border relations against the backdrop of Brexit.
Spain’s governing Socialist secured the most MPs in the hotly-contested election, as support for the Partido Popular collapsed, including in the Campo de Gibraltar, and the far-right party Vox secured its first parliamentary seats in Madrid.
The PSOE won 123 seats in the 350-seat Spanish Congress, the lower house of parliament, up from 85 seats in the last election in 2016.
“The socialist party has won the general elections, and with them the future has won and the past has lost,” said Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialist Workers’ Party [PSOE].
“Social democracy has a great future because it has a great present and Spain is an example of that. We will form a pro-European government to strengthen and not weaken Europe.”
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, in his capacity as leader of the GSLP, wrote to Mr Sanchez and to Pablo Iglesias, leader of Unidas-Podemos, to congratulate them on the result.
In the letter to Mr Sanchez, he reflected on the PSOE leader’s analysis that the results represented a victory of the future over the past. Mr Picardo said he hoped this would be reflected in Spain’s relations with Gibraltar.
“I sincerely hope that the approach to Gibraltar, the Campo de Gibraltar and the issues that have bedevilled our relationship with Spain will now also be future looking and seeking cooperation – in keeping with Mr Sanchez’ original remarks in June 2018 – that we have to look to create a positive dialogue beyond the rhetoric of the perennial debate on sovereignty,” Mr Picardo wrote.
“That is the wish of the Socialist Labour Party in Gibraltar also.”
Mr Picardo told the Chronicle that in his letters to both Mr Sanchez and Mr Iglesias, he had expressed a wish to see Spain engage in dialogue and cooperation on matters relating to Gibraltar.
“But I am clear that we have been let down by PSOE before, even by this leadership, on matters relating to Brexit, so we will continue to seek positive engagement but we will be realistic and mindful of the need always to be vigilant and not trusting in our relationships with Spanish politicians,” he said.
SHORT OF MAJORITY
Sunday’s result means the Socialists are short of the majority needed to form government, setting the scene for coalition talks with leftist Unidas-Podemos and smaller Basque or Catalan nationalist parties to secure their backing.
But the outcome leaves the rightwing bloc formed by the Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and Vox trailing behind the leftist and progressive parties in parliament.
Together, the three rightwing parties won a total of 147 seats in Congress, while PSOE and the leftist party Unidas-Podemos won 165 seats, putting the leftist bloc 18 seats ahead of the rightwing bloc.
Even so, the leftist bloc was still short of the 175 majority it needs to govern.
PSOE and the centre-right Ciudadanos, which increased its MPs from 32 in 2016 to 57 on Sunday, would also have sufficient MPs to form government, although both parties ruled out a pact during the election campaign.
The populist Vox broke through to become the first far-right party to win seats in Spain’s parliament since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco.
The party secured 24 seats – significant, though fewer than expected – and in doing so, split voters on the right of the political spectrum and delivered a bruising blow to the PP, whose MPs in Congress dropped from 137 in 2016 to 65 in Sunday’s election.
Pablo Casado, who had steered the PP further to the right to try to stop it from losing votes to Vox, called the worst ballot result ever for his party “very bad”, saying “we’ve been losing our electoral support for several elections”.
The vote surge included a huge boost in the north-eastern Catalonia region, which has been embroiled in a political quagmire since its failed secession bid in 2017 put separatist leaders in jail while they are tried.
Gibraltar’s opposition parties also welcomed the fact that Spanish parties of the left had achieved better results than those on the right in Sunday’s general election.
Keith Azopardi, the leader of the GSD, said noted that the result – in which no bloc obtained an outright majority to govern – would mean days, perhaps even weeks of uncertainty and coalition negotiations.
“But the numbers seem to indicate that a right wing coalition between Partido Popular, Ciudadanos and Vox is less likely,” he said.
“That is good for GIbraltar, not least because of the more extreme electioneering pronouncements over Gibraltar made by Spanish politicians.”
“While we must always remain vigilant in the knowledge that all Spanish political parties pursue unjustified claims over Gibraltar, the result of the Spanish general election is the best we could hope for in the circumstances.”
Independent MP Marlene Hassan-Nahon, who leads the Together Gibraltar party, echoed those sentiments.
“The defeat of the far right in Spain will come as a relief for us, given that both the PP and VOX have expressed hard-line positions on Gibraltar,” she told the Chronicle.
“But let’s not forget that it was Pedro Sanchez’s Government who sought, and achieved, the colonial footnote in the EU’s no-deal Brexit legislation.”
“The point is that Gibraltar must continue to be wary of Spanish political interference regardless of who’s in power in Madrid.”
The overall results on Sunday were echoed across Spain including in the Campo de Gibraltar, where the PP vote dropped sharply while PSOE and Ciudadanos rose and Vox gained support for the first time.
The national voting trends in Campo municipalities are unlikely to be repeated in forthcoming municipal elections on May 26, but nonetheless suggest that support for traditional parties is shifting, opening the way for newcomer Vox to secure council seats.
On Sunday in La Linea, 32.6% of the vote went to PSOE, followed by Ciudadanos with 21%, Vox with 15%, the PP with 14.34% and Podemos with 12.5%.
The PSOE vote in La Linea was unchanged from 2016, while Ciudadanos was up and Podemos down slightly. The big loser was the PP, which received 31.4% of the vote in 2016 but plummeted to 14.3% on Sunday.
In Algeciras, where in 2016 the PP had secured 36% of the vote, the result was even bleaker for Spain’s traditional party of the right.
On Sunday, the PP secured just 14.9% of the vote in Algeciras, while the PSOE received 28.8% of the backing, Ciudadanos 20% and Vox 19.6%.
The city’s PP mayor, Jose Ignacio Landaluce, also lost his seat in the Senate, the upper house of parliament in Madrid.
Results in the province of Cadiz meanwhile saw Gemma Araujo, the former PSOE mayor of La Linea, narrowly miss out on a seat in Congress. She was fourth on the Socialist list for Cadiz but the party secured only three MPs.
However one of those MPs for Cadiz, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, is tipped to return to a ministerial role in any new Socialist administration, which means he would vacate his MP seat and allow Mrs Araujo to step in.
Other municipalities in the Campo registered similar patterns in voting.
MAIN PHOTO: REUTERS/Sergio Perez