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Spain conservative leader in dock as Galicia holds election

By AFP - Feb 18,2024 - Last updated at Feb 18,2024

A voter casts a ballot in Pontevedra, on Sunday during the regional elections in Galicia. 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 (AFP photo)

MADRID — Spain’s north-western Galicia region votes on 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 nationally in a minority coalition that relies on smaller regional parties to pass legislation.

The election comes with Feijoo 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.

He 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 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 on Thursday at a campaign rally in Galicia.

Polls will close at 8:00pm (19:00 GMT), with official results expected several hours later.


‘Political end’ 


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 July election only for Feijoo to fail to cobble together a working majority in parliament to form a government.

That gave Sanchez a lifeline to stay on despite his Socialists having finished second.

The result of the election “could means the political end of Feijoo, because there is nothing more painful than losing when you are playing at home”, Jose Pablo Ferrandiz, a director at pollster Ipsos, told daily newspaper La Vanguardia.

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.

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