On June 19, something occurred in Spanish politics that had never happened before: the Partido Popular (PP) obtained an absolute majority in the Andalusian elections. Andalusia, Spain´s most populated autonomous community, was traditionally the Socialist Party´s fiefdom, governing the region for 40 uninterrupted years until in 2018 the PP took over under a coalition pact with centrist Ciudadanos.
Since then, a PP-led government has proven popular, lowering taxes, attracting businesses and fighting corruption, which had been rampant under the Socialists. Juanma Moreno, the PP´s leader in Andalusia, has become a political giant. An April poll showed 46% of Andalusians believe Moreno is the best president the region has ever had, 34 points ahead of the next. This was reflected at the ballot box in June, as the PP obtained 58 out of 109 seats in the Andalusian Parliament.
One of the key figures behind the landslide is Moreno´s right hand man and campaign manager, Elías Bendodo, who acted as regional minister for the Presidency, Public Administration and Interior during Moreno´s first government and has been president of the PP in the province of Malaga since 2008, which under his leadership turned into a PP stronghold. His political track record, which began as a councillor in Malaga´s City Council, has not gone unnoticed; Bendodo was recently appointed national general coordinator of the party by the PP´s president, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, making him a key player in ensuring the party is fully geared up ahead of the next general election, which polls currently have the PP winning. As such, Bendodo has the best possible insight into the factors behind the historic result in Andalusia and the lessons it holds for the European center-right as a whole, which he explains to EDS in this interview.
For those unfamiliar with what happened in the Andalusian elections of June 19, what implications does the PP’s absolute majority have?
The first is that a path of stability has been established in Andalusia that will allow it to grow, advance and occupy a leading position among Spain´s autonomous communities. Andalusia wasted many opportunities in the 40 years under Socialist governments, but now, at last, it has seized its potential with the help of a great president, Juanma Moreno. And it means, of course, the consolidation of the Partido Popular´s project in Andalusia, a region where the PP had already won elections but had never governed until 2018. The absolute majority also marks a giant step forward that will help Alberto Núñez Feijóo become Spain´s prime minister sooner than later.
What have been the main changes that have taken place in Andalusia under the PP? What measures have been the most important?
The most important change can be summed up very simply: we have managed to make Andalusia work, we put an end to a long period of inertia and apathy, of a lack of enthusiasm that had become chronic. We now lead within Spain in areas such as exports, number of self-employed, job creation… This has never been achieved before in Andalusia. And we have done it while lowering taxes, eliminating bureaucratic obstacles and protecting health, education and social services. In just three and a half years and despite the brutal pandemic, we have approved a new Land Law which will allow, for example, for an urban development plan to go ahead in an average of two years, when until now the average was a decade. Andalusia has already become the region in Spain where it is easiest to complete an administrative procedure.
We are living through an era characterised by the emergence of often divisive leaders who have used confrontation to reach power. In contrast, Juanma Moreno keeps insisting on a term that seems to have taken hold: serenity. What qualities does Juanma Moreno possess that have connected so well with Andalusian society?
Juanma Moreno does not have to fall into any imposture to convey moderation because he is a convinced moderate. I have known him for a long time, since we were both in Nuevas Generaciones (the PP´s youth wing), so I know what I am talking about. Juanma Moreno has applied moderation in word and deed. And when that occurs, citizens are aware of it and respond with their trust. That is what happened.
In the last five years the parties that make up the European People’s Party have lost important national governments such as in Germany and Spain, while they have achieved poor results in important countries such as France, Italy or Portugal. In many cases, European center-right parties have been pushed into a corner by an ascendant populist right. However, voters in Andalusia dashed Vox’s expectations and opted en masse for the PP. How did you manage to halt the rise of Vox and at the same time occupy the center ground?
With moderation, composure, and effectiveness. Moderation without governing effectively is useless because people want and deserve results. Vox should not be ignored because it is a political adversary, but we should not get distracted by looking to our right or to our left. The focus must always be on the citizens.
You have proven yourself a specialist in defeating the left in their strongholds. Before you became president of the provincial government of Málaga in 2011, the PSOE had governed it for 28 of the last 32 years. Since then, the PP has been unbeatable in the province. Now the same story repeats itself in Andalusia. What is the trick to winning in territories that previously seemed sociologically adverse?
More than one trick, there are three: work, work and more work. One must dedicate a lot of time, work intelligently and remain close to what the people need and demand.
For the first time, you have taken on a major responsibility in national politics, with the objective of helping Alberto Núñez Feijóo win the next general election. Spain is facing major challenges, including in the economic sphere, with inflation running rampant and the threat of technical recession looming over Europe. In this context, what can Spanish and European citizens expect from the Partido Popular led by Feijóo?
Effectiveness, seriousness and statesmanship. All economic crises begin with the Socialist Party and are resolved by the Partido Popular. It happened with Felipe González in the 90s, with Zapatero in the financial crisis and now it is going to happen with Pedro Sánchez. Alberto Núñez Feijóo knows how our institutions work and has set the right road map for Spain to regain credibility and recover economic growth.