If Spain's regional elections are seen as tests for the national, Socialist-led government, then the last two have returned extremely mixed results for Pedro Sánchez. His flailing coalition is unlikely to be heartened by events on Sunday, when the country's most populous region, Andalucía, goes to the polls five months early. Still, Andalucía's current president and likely victor, bland Conservative Juanma Moreno, will probably have to make some difficult decisions in the vote's aftermath.
The Socialists came first in the rural region of Castilla y León in May 2019, topping the leaderboard for the first time since 1983 and securing 35 seats. But they were prevented from forming a government by a partnership between the Partido Popular (PP) and centrist Ciudadanos.
In the region's most recent elections, held in February this year, the PSOE lost seven seats and almost five percentage points of the vote. Although the PP failed to secure the emphatic victory it had been expecting, it went on to form a government with Vox, a precocious right-wing force which upped its presence in the central region from one to thirteen seats.
In calling the February 2022 Castilla y León vote early, the region's PP president Alfonso Mañueco hoped to capitalise on the Madrid elections of May 2021, in which much less ambiguous results were returned for both right and left. Led by punchy libertarian Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the PP more than doubled its seats in the capital and increased its share of the vote by almost 23%. By sharp contrast, the Socialists lost thirteen of their 37 seats and saw their portion of the vote fall by over 10%. The Madrid election - also held tactically early - returned a damning verdict on the national government's handling of the pandemic, strident criticisms of which were central to Ayuso's campaign.
Opinion polls indicate that the PP will come out on top again in Andalucía on Sunday, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will strengthen its grip on power in the region. A consistent trend over the last couple of years, and a key factor in both the elections discussed above, has been the apparently unstoppable demise of Ciudadanos, currently the PP's governmental partner here in the south.
In Madrid in May 2021, though, the once-important party lost all 26 seats and in Castilla y Leon in February this year it retained just one of its twelve seats. If Ciudadanos also performs abysmally in Andalucía this Sunday (a likely prospect), then Moreno will lose his governing partner; and if he fails to secure a majority at the same time (also likely), he may have to open coalition negotiations with Vox, on which he's already informally reliant. Though no doubt hoping to replicate Ayuso's emphatic success in Madrid last spring, Moreno might instead have to mirror Mañueco's compromises in Castilla y León earlier this year.
Either way, Sunday is unlikely to bring good news for the Socialists.