Stuck in the middle

The Castilla y León election results show that many citizens in central, rural Spain feel underrepresented by the country's dominant forces

Mark Nayler
MARK NAYLER

The election in Castilla y León last Sunday saw small but significant gains for two groups that rarely appear under the political spotlight - much like the vast internal region itself. It's these incremental victories that show, perhaps even more so than the results obtained by the biggest parties, that many citizens in central, rural Spain feel underrepresented by the country's dominant forces.

Contesting for the first time, Soria Ya won three seats in the region's 81-seat parliament, putting it in fifth place. Started with a protest movement twenty years ago in and around Soria, a mountainous province in the east of Castilla y León, it runs under the banner of España Vaciada, or Emptied Spain - an eclectic platform of parties and collectives campaigning for greater investment in depopulated central regions (although there are two members in Andalucía, in Granada and Jaén).

Ahead of Sunday's closely fought vote, Soria Ya's leader, Ángel Ceña, reiterated his party's main concern - that both Socialists and Conservatives have failed to bring change in rural areas. Ceña campaigns for what he dubs "strategic re-industrialisation" through repopulation and job-creation - that is, he wants to bring back people who traded the countryside for cities and coastal resorts. After securing seats in Castilla y León's parliament for the first time, his party may finally be able trigger a homecoming that will revitalise rural Spain.

The other quiet step forward last Sunday was made by the Leonese People's Union (UPL), arguably Spain's most obscure separatist movement. Increasing its seats from one to three to place fourth, the party registered a slight uptick in support for an new autonomous region comprising Zamora, León and Salamanca, provinces currently included within Castilla y León. Again, this small victory is an indication of rural discontent with Spain's main parties, especially the Popular Party, (PP), which has controlled Castilla y León for over three decades.

Both Soria Ya and the UPL are now poised to provide crucial support to Castilla y León's next administration, likely to be led by a partnership between the PP (1st place) and Vox, which increased its seats from one to thirteen. The left has virtually no chance of taking control of a region that's become a safe zone for the Spanish right: the Socialists came in second but their only prospective partner, Podemos, staggered in sixth with one seat, thus halving its presence in the regional parliament.

A PP-Vox coalition in Castilla y León would not only possess a majority, it would be the first regional administration to formally include the latter party. If formed, its success will depend on the extent to which it engages with the concerns of Emptied Spain and, to a lesser degree, the UPL - a motley cohort fed up with the regional branch of the political establishment.