Regional elections in Spain, because they are not all held at the same time, can be viewed as a test of a public opinion about the national government. In Spain at present, however, there is only a national government by default, one that is nine months on from when it should either have been confirmed as re-elected or ousted. Are, in these circumstances, the elections in the Basque Country and Galicia relevant? Do they say anything about the national government?
They most certainly do. More importantly, they say a great deal about the pretenders, one of whom is PSOE; the PSOE that Pedro Sánchez leads. This is not the PSOE of the whole country, however, and the results loosen his grip - already tenuous - ever more. The knives of Andalusia, in the hands of Susana Díaz, are being sharpened on the stone. How long can Sánchez carry on?
Consider the numbers. In Galicia the regional version of PSOE suffered its worst ever result. It ended up with fourteen seats in the regional parliament with slightly less than 18% of the vote in a four-way fight. En Marea, effectively Podemos by another name, also gained fourteen seats but with a higher share of the vote - just over 19%. Both were eclipsed by the Partido Popular. Alberto Núñez Feijóo will continue to govern with an absolute majority.
In the Basque Country, the socialists suffered major losses - seven seats gone, leaving them with nine. The PNV, habitual leaders in the region, have insufficient seats for an overall majority, but could hook up with the PP (or PSOE) and establish a parliamentary majority.
While Feijóo's win in Galicia will be taken as enhancing Mariano Rajoy's moral right to remain as national prime minister, it needs reminding that Galicia is very firm PP territory - and Feijóo territory. The loss of one PP seat in the Basque Country places a rather different spin on things. Perhaps the strongest message to come from the elections, where the PP is concerned, is that Feijóo has strengthened his case for replacing Rajoy.
Rather than a test of public opinion for Rajoy, the elections were a poll on the ambitions of Sánchez and PSOE to attempt to form an "alternative" government of the left. These are surely dashed, if indeed they have ever truly been realistic. Díaz had made it clear that they weren't, given the fact that PSOE have only 85 seats in the national Congress.
A surprise with Sánchez is the fact that he's still in charge. Reflect on the charge sheet. A failed attempt, an awfully failed attempt at investiture, followed by a second election at which PSOE lost more seats in Congress. Yet he still believes he can form a government, seemingly egged on by the likes of Balearic president Francina Armengol into adopting a model of government akin to that in the Balearics - one that quite plainly isn't functioning. Armengol is deluded and so is Sánchez. With the batterings in the Basque Country and Galicia, his time must surely be up.
If this proves to be the case, the PSOE "barons", marshalled by Díaz, will manoeuvre a situation whereby there is a pact with Rajoy and the PP (or possibly with Feijóo and the PP; this may be the price Rajoy has to pay). For Francina Armengol, who must have been observing the results coming in with increasing horror and alarm, such a national manouevre would be terminal. Podemos wouldn't stand for it, while Més seem ever increasingly alienated from Armengol.
If PSOE were the big losers in these two elections, what about Cuidadanos? This party is more and more like an annoying terrier, snapping at the heels of others. It is shooed away but keeps coming back, yapping and yapping but never getting its way. Its leader, Albert Rivera, had been looking at the prospect of a post-election alliance with the PP in Galicia. They failed to gain a single seat. A share of the vote that was little more than three per cent ensured that they would fail, just as they also did in the Basque Country.
What may now dawn on the C's, whose support has been eroding, is that their aspirations to be a national party run up against nationalist interests in specific regions. Even the conservative nationalist instincts in Galicia and the Basque Country appear disinclined to embrace a party which started as a regional Catalonian organisation (with avowed anti-nationalist sentiments) and has attempted to become a national force. Regional parties aren't supposed to behave like this. The C's have got above their station. They are liked less and less. Their time may well have come and gone, leaving Podemos, with its internal divisions, as the genuine "alternative".
Díaz, Feijóo and others will make damn sure it never is.
* This article was written before Sánchez announced that there are to be "primaries" for electing the secretary general, i.e. that he is putting his position to the test.