On February 18 there will be elections in Galicia. They will be the first since 2009 in which the right-wing candidate will not be called Alberto Núñez Feijóo. His successor at the head of the Xunta, Alfonso Rueda, announced the date this morning, after months of dithering and multiple evasion due to the interest of the press. “I have just transferred my decision to call elections for Sunday, February 18,” he said at the end of the extraordinary Council of his cabinet. I challenged him to revalidate the absolute majority that Feijóo obtained on four consecutive occasions, before embarking together with Díaz Ayuso in the defenestration of Pablo Casado and assuming the state leadership of the right. And offer him, in the process, some electoral joy with which to overcome the failure of 23J.
Rueda began his usual Thursday appearance, after the weekly meeting of his cabinet, anticipating the exceptional situation: “I am going to make a somewhat different reflection.” He justified the choice of the date on which the budgets of the Xunta are already approved in the Parliament of Galicia – the vote was on Tuesday – and that “means that the the appointment with the polls. That milestone, having the accounts ready to come into force on January 1, was the most important element in his argument.
The convocation decree will be published next Tuesday, December 26, in the Official Gazette of Galicia. The campaign will start on February 2. The previous elections were held in July 2020, but Rueda considers the legislature completed, although “not 100%.” To try to support the advance of a few months, he recalled that four years ago the initial date was in April, but the confinement due to the pandemic forced the plans to change: “Practically it will be four years. For stability, it would not be coherent to call without the roadmap and security provided by budgets.”
The current president of the Xunta repeated that the decision is “fundamentally” his and that the communication with the state leadership of the PP was a call this morning to Alberto Núñez Feijóo to inform him of the date already set. The leader of the popular party conveyed his willingness to collaborate in the campaign, he added. He also called the Lehendakari, Iñigo Urkullu, to give him the information before making it public “out of deference.” In the last calls, since the arrival of Feijóo the Xunta, both territories had come to vote on the same day. Only they and members of his government knew of Rueda’s decision before he announced it publicly, as he himself explained.
“I asked for some opinion, but knowing that I am the one who assumes responsibility,” said Rueda. He assured that he was aware that, with an isolated electoral event at the start of the year, the focus of politics and state attention will be placed on Galicia. Feijóo’s presence is guaranteed and last weekend both the leader of the PSOE, Pedro Sánchez, and the leader of Sumar, Yolanda Díaz, landed in the community to support their Galician teams. Even so, Rueda maintains that the interests of Galicia will be the ones that focus attention in the campaign, although “the projection at the national level, which is not minor,” is also addressed.
Rueda is his party’s candidate for the Presidency for the first time but he is not, however, a newcomer. One of the architects of the dirty electoral campaign of the Popular Party in 2009 – he himself has admitted it: “We had stressed the issue a lot” – he was part of all the executives of Feijóo, ten years as vice president. Still, when he took over in May 2022, his citizen knowledge rate was, according to surveys, remarkably low. His communication strategy, in place for months, has attempted to remedy this. To achieve this, he has used the close control that the Galician Government exercises over public media, denounced time and again by the workers themselves, and the support of an important part of the private media. The image of a friendly Alfonso Rueda with a sense of humor has invaded the Galician Television grid, not only in the news.
The fact is that the political balance of the year and a half of his mandate offers, above all, continuity with respect to Feijóo. Without major strategic lines in the background, with a certain intensification of the neoliberal agenda – lower taxes on large assets, transfer to the private sector of the right to abortion or nursing homes – he has not presented any significant announcements either. He has claimed new powers for the first time since 2009: over the coast, for which he has the support of the Socialist Party and BNG. And he has made the denunciation of alleged grievances by Sánchez’s central government a discursive axis. He also inherited that from Feijóo. Beyond that, just the insistence on the Jacobean tourism model that he managed for years before taking office.
Vox and Ourensana Democracy in the territory of the PP
The strength of the PP at the regional level, 42 out of 75 deputies, does not tell the whole story. Only one of the seven cities with the largest population governs and almost all city councils of a certain size are in the hands of the left and nationalism. Also two of the four deputations. And the sum of votes from socialists, Sumar and Block in the last general elections surpassed that of the right. That in Galicia, at the moment, they only have one brand, the PP. And the dispersion of the vote is worrying. So much so that Miguel Tellado himself, then Deputy Secretary of Organization, asked his far-right Vox partners not to present candidates in the community.
It is not the only threat that looms over popular hegemony on the right, despite the fact that the friendly press ignores it. Ourensana Democracy, the populist brand of Gonzalo Pérez Jácome, controversial mayor of Ourense, assures that he will run for seats in the Ourense constituency. The relationship between the PP and Jácome has been tortuous since, in 2019, Feijóo swallowed his words – “a Jácome government would be lethal for Ourense” – and gave him the city mayor’s office in exchange for his support for Baltar. Four years later, Baltar and his saga are the history of provincial politics after having been hunted at 215 kilometers per hour and rewarded by the party with a seat in the Senate. Not Jácome, who reissued his agreement with the Popular Party in the only city, along with Ferrol, that the right governs. Rueda does not admit concern, his vice president, Diego Calvo, before the microphones of Cadena Ser, does.
On the other side of the board
The waters go down equally agitated on the other side of the board. Only the BNG, which leads the opposition with 19 seats, maintains stability in its leadership. Ana Pontón will be, for the third consecutive time, his candidate for the presidency of the Xunta. Four years ago she starred in one of the great leaps forward of the Galician left and ended the crossing of the desert that, after the splits of 2012, the nationalist formation had suffered. She has focused her criticism of Rueda, far from stridency, on the interim nature of her mandate and on the “exhausted momentum” of her policy. The upward trajectory that it has commanded stumbled on July 23 – the Bloc had conspired to obtain its “own group” in Congress and only obtained one seat, the one it already had – but now it calls for concentrating “the vote for change” Galician in his person.
Another crossing of the desert was suffered by the socialist José Ramón Gómez Besteiro, in his case due to judicial accusations that made him resign as general secretary of the PSdeG in 2016. Only this year was the last of the cases filed and Besteiro returned to the front line. In just a few months he was successively delegate of the Government in Galicia, deputy in Congress and now replacing Gonzalo Caballero as candidate for the presidency of the Galician Executive. No militant wanted to challenge him for this last position in primaries. Now it is his task to rescue the Galician socialists from one of their electoral soils, the 14 deputies achieved by Caballero in 2020. His speech currently emphasizes the need for a Galician industrial policy – the figures from the PP cabinets in this regard they are rather negative – and to accelerate the transition to the production of renewable energy.
The third leg of the Galician left has not yet finalized its offer. The breakdown of negotiations with Podemos, the tension with Esquerda Unida and the slamming of the door by Anova de Beiras and Martiño Noriega makes it difficult. Sumar’s genealogy in the Galician left, and part of his promoter group, place her in what was a space of confluence between sovereignist sectors and the federal left. The first ones definitively got off the vehicle and are now inclined to support the BNG. Yolanda Díaz’s party will present itself alone to the Galician Parliament just a few months after obtaining two deputies to Congress for A Coruña and Pontevedra. The few known polls agree, for the moment, that the PP will retain the absolute majority.