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Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that the Palacio de San Telmo in Seville would one day host a government from the right-wing People's Party (PP)? An Andalusia with its background of anarchism, the Mano Negra, rural struggles and Casas Viejas ... and also of the Socialism led by Felipe González and Susana Díaz. The history since Franco's death of the second largest and most populous Spanish autonomous community is inseparable from the influence of the Andalusian branch of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). A bond that came to an end, however, four years ago, when the Socialists recorded their worst results in history in the region and gave way, surprisingly, to the PP.

Nor can it be said that Spain's conservative party had truly won the leadership of the Andalusian government then. As with the Socialists, those 2018 elections also gave the PP its lowest turnout since the party emerged out of the Alianza Popular in the early 1990s. With just over a fifth of the total support, candidate Juanma Moreno seemed destined for a bit-part in history. But it was not so. Ciudadanos (Cs), who at that point were on the crest of their electoral successes before they slipped into the decline that is now leading them to extinction, and Vox, which burst into the Andalusian Parliament with force to launch the far-right party's spectacular rise in Spain, offered to save the PP. The trifachito - literally, "tri-fascists", as Spain's right-wing political trio is labelled from without - had an absolute majority. In exchange for allowing the presidency to go to Moreno, Cs only demanded a coalition government; the far-right, still minimally true to its word, offered to facilitate the investiture in exchange for almost nothing because it did not want to enter an institution whose closure it demanded as a matter of (ideological) policy.

However, despite the modest support that they received four years ago, the PP in Andalusia is experiencing a special moment. All polls place Juanma Moreno as the favourite to win the election this Sunday 19th. Not only that, but he is approaching the coveted absolute majority that would allow him to rule alone without any deal with Vox. Far-right candidate Macarena Olona has warned on numerous occasions that her party will demand to be part of the executive. How has Moreno managed to put an end to the hegemony of the PSOE and be on the verge of, in his words, "consolidating change" in Andalusia?

Juanma Moreno a Sevilla / Foto: Europa Press
Juanma Moreno in Seville / Foto: Europa Press

Obstacles removed: the PSOE and Cs

Among the reasons for the growth of the PP in this autonomous community is the situation in which the other parties find themselves, starting with the Socialists. That's the view which José Pablo Ferrándiz, a director of the Ipsos España research centre, expressed in an interview with "The Socialist government in Andalusia was badly eroded after so many years in government, after several major corruption cases, and also because of the decline in public services," he said. Since 2018, the regional PSOE has not found the way to renew itself. To this must be added the question of his candidate, Juan Espadas, who is not well known among the electorate. It is not surprising, then, that the polls do not predict that the Socialists will improve their last results.

As for Cs, the situation is even worse. Despite this period of belonging to the Andalusian executive, Ciudadanos have not been able to reap the benefits. All opinion surveys predict their practical disappearance. "It often happens that in coalition governments the larger partner swallows the smaller one, because the former is presented in public opinion as the group genuinely responsible for government action," recalls University of Granada sociology professor Alejandro Romero in a conversation with this newspaper. "It is a game of self-confirming perceptions, in which the PP has to do practically nothing to maintain them, and nothing that Cs does will be enough to reverse them."

Moderation without scandals

But there are also merits that the People's Party can claim. The point is, their arrival at the San Telmo seat of government after decades of rule from the left worried many voters. The feeling was that the change of political colour might lead the region to catastrophe. "There was always the fear that the right would come in and destroy the state that the Socialists have built in Andalusia," said Ferrándiz. This has not been the case, and in the face of such pessimistic expectations, any management that has not plunged the autonomous community into poverty has been welcomed.

The data shows that. According to an El País poll, a large majority of PP, Vox and Ciudadanos voters believe that the political situation in Andalusia has improved, and only half of the Socialist voters believe that it has got worse. As for the assessment of Moreno's performance, he gets a healthy pass mark from the three right-wing parties, and even PSOE voters approve of him. In addition, respondents acknowledge that the figure of the PP candidate is the one that best represents an image of leadership, including the voters of the PSOE and the two left-wing groupings, Adelante Andalucía and Por Andalucía.

Another style of PP leader in this autonomous community would probably not be able to mop up the successes that are now being presented to Moreno. In the case of the radical wing, a profile closer to that of the president of the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the experiment would probably not have gone that far. "If, when he had arrived, he suddenly tried to introduce changes that were clearly right-wing, privatizing and generally going against the climate that Andalusian citizens want, it would probably be much harder for him to repeat in office," argues Ferrándiz. Moderation is not a value demanded by the entire Andalusian electorate, but the truth is that there is a large number who are attracted to it, especially those who had previously trusted the PSOE.

After all, under the conservatives, the administration has not generated any major headaches or scandals. Despite some commitments like a reduction in taxes for the rich and unemployment figures that are not a reason to celebrate, they are by and large satisfying the public. "They've made a smooth transition and people are willing to give the government more time," says Ferrándiz. This is an idea shared by Jean-Baptiste Harguindéguy, a political science professor at Pablo de Olavide University, as he told "Moreno's management has been very much along the same lines as the PSOE. Much of Moreno's popularity is that he has not done anything strange with respect to Susana Díaz," he detailed. "Yes, a little more to the right in a symbolic way, but there has not been a big bang, which is what people do not like".

Juanma Moreno i Alberto Núñez Feijóo / Foto: EFE
Juanma Moreno and Alberto Núñez Feijóo / Foto: EFE

A buttress for Feijóo

To all this must be added the arrival of Alberto Núñez Feijóo at the presidency of the People's Party. Moreno has benefited greatly from this change. There is an obvious link between the Andalusian and the Galician, which goes beyond the moderation which is part of the image of both politicians. Already in early March, when the then-president of the Xunta de Galicia announced his candidacy for the overall leadership of the party, Moreno quickly shared his support and took the opportunity to throw some barbs at Pablo Casado. "Feijóo has a level of experience that Casado obviously doesn't have, and that yields noticeable differences in their respective ways of understanding politics," he said, also accusing the now ex-leader of being more concerned with controlling territorial structures than winning the next election”. The betrayal would soon be consummated, with Feijóo, Moreno and Ayuso allying to oust Casado from the Calle Génova party headquarters.

"There is an extraordinary relationship and harmony between the two because they are similar and have a similar way of doing business," Julio César Herrero, director of the IMF Smart Education School of Public Affairs and Government, told this newspaper. "In addition, it is very difficult to reach the central government without a community as important as Andalusia's." One example to show this: the transfer of Elías Bendodo to Madrid to become the national coordinator of Feijóo, after years holding positions in Andalusia and being Moreno's right hand, with a key role during the first Andalusian legislature of the Popular Party. "When one dispenses with someone who has helped you reach the presidency of Andalusia, it is because you are committed to the new national leadership and willing to contribute," says César Herrero. With Núñez Feijóo’s gaze fixed on Moncloa palace in Madrid, and the polls supporting him on this course, Juanma Moreno could expect a future far beyond Andalusia. But for now, the first challenge - to be resolved this Sunday evening - will be to establish the first true PP executive in Andalusia.