In 2019, political uncertainty interfered with the day-to-day life of Public Affairs professionals. What does 2023 have in store for us?
It is impossible to forget 2019, a year in which we had two general elections in April and November, ten months with a government in office, failed investiture attempts, an inability to reach agreements and, in the background, emerging situations with great destabilising potential.
It is also unforgettable because it was the prelude to the COVID-19 pandemic, another setback that we had to face just as the political landscape was finally beginning to clear a little after Pedro Sánchez’s tight investiture, in January 2020.
Public Affairs professionals lived through this whole process with the utmost attention and concern, as we were not clear about who, when and – almost more importantly – how would be able to set office.
Now, in 2023, this experience may repeat itself on another scale, as regional elections in 12 regions plus Ceuta and Melilla, municipal elections and general elections converge in a single year.
Slower and slower
In recent years, Spain has been among the slowest European countries to form a government. Before 2015, our average of 42 days placed us in a middle ground alongside other European countries, according to data from Ecker and Meyer. From that year onwards, we extended our national record to 314 days with Mariano Rajoy in office between 2015 and 2016.
This can be explained by the lack of a pact culture, possibly due to more than 30 years of bipartisanship, or by the rules we follow for the formation of a government, which include the fact that the investiture of a president requires the explicit support of a majority or that a motion of no-confidence calls for proposing an alternative president.
In terms of the ability to live without a government, Belgium holds the world record. The appointment of a new president in 2020 took 493 days since the last elections and 650 days since the “fall” of the last government. This is partly due to the lack of a deadline.
Key to minimising impact
As we saw in 2019, the succession of electoral calls and handovers fed in to an increasingly volatile environment. Many Public Affairs projects had to be postponed, as the provisional nature of some positions made it difficult to engage in dialogue and take decisions in both the short and long term.
In an election year such as 2023, we must remain prepared to adapt to the new political scenarios that will emerge. Here are four keys to achieve this:
- Be very clear about the timing: it is not only about anticipating elections and the weeks of negotiation that will follow, but also the dissolutions of parliaments, people who will remain temporarily in office or the election campaign period, as well as their implications for the decision makers’ calendars. In addition, it should also be taken into account that each change will require a settling-in period.
- Prioritise the focus of action: not all regions will hold regional elections in May. Andalusia, Castile and Leon, Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country will not be calling citizens to the polls, so by the middle of the year, we will be able to assess how to better approach the governments of these regions.
- Anticipate organisational changes: knowing who is who is key. The profiles, priorities and particular agendas of new officials can help to re-establish trust more quickly.
- Adapt constantly: the results of the regional elections can forecast to some extent what will happen at the end of the year in the general elections, so we can pay attention to their results to adapt our action plans.
If 2019 was a year of learning in the midst of volatility, applying all the lessons it tought us can be a useful tool to face these next elections.