The results of the general elections held in Spain on July 23 have continued with the trend that has been the characteristic of the Spanish electoral politics for the past almost one decade.
As Spain went to polls on July 23, the opinion polls had predicted a change in guard with the opposition party Partido Popular (PP), a conservative party, making considerable gains in its seats tally compared to last elections and the ruling party Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) coming second. This prediction proved to be correct but the number of seats won by the PSOE has upset the equations of the opinion polls.
As per the final results, the PP has won 136 seats and the PSOE has won 122 seats. Most of the opinion polls had predicted the PP winning around 140 seats while the PSOE ending up with around 105-110 seats. While the PP’s performance was as expected, the PSOE has surprised by winning 122 seats, which is actually an improvement of two seats as compared to last elections of November 2019 when it won 120 seats.
The far-right Vox has won 33 seats while Sumar, a coalition of far-left parties, led by the current second Vice President of Spain Yolanda Díaz has won 31 seats.
The results present an uncertain picture as it would take considerable political bargaining for any party to form the next government in the lower house of the Spanish Parliament, Congreso de los Diputados that has 350 seats, thereby requiring 176 seats for absolute majority.
No party, at least the two major parties PSOE and PP, was expected to win absolute majority on its own in these elections. But the opinion polls had indicated a possibility of the PP allying with Vox to form a government. These two parties are allies in some of the Autonomous Communities in Spain. However their total tally of 169 falls short of majority.
The PSOE, under the current President of the Government Pedro Sánchez, too would have to negotiate with Sumar and other smaller regional parties to form the government.
Catalonia remains the key
Catalonia, which has been at loggerheads with Madrid for decades over autonomy in governance and revenue sharing and where several political parties harbour ambitions of independence from Spain, holds the key for any breakthrough in this deadlock.
Catalonia had also played a crucial part in the previous general elections held in 2019. When the general elections held in April 2019 resulted in hung parliament, elections were held again in November 2019. After the November 2019 elections, Sánchez negotiated with Catalan political parties. As per negotiations, the Em Comú Podem, a coalition of left parties in Catalonia supported Sánchez while Esquerra Republicana Catalunya (ERC), a pro-independence Catalan party abstained from voting. This arrangement finally helped Sánchez in investiture of his government in January 2020.
Junts Per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), a pro-independence Catalan party, has won seven seats in these elections and could hold the key to forming the government this time. The Junts had opposed Sánchez during his investiture in January 2020.
In the current situation the only shot that Sánchez has in forming the government is to stitch together an alliance with Sumar and other smaller regional parties which would include ERC and the Junts. However, it is easier said than done since the Junts have already announced that they would not support Sánchez as president for nothing.
As certain political parties from Catalonia have struggled for independence, Sánchez has displayed leniency towards the separatists as well. Nine Catalan leaders were given lengthy prison sentences in 2019 for holding independence referendum in 2017. Sánchez later abolished these sentences.
The Junts are likely to drive a hard bargain which could include greater fiscal and administrative autonomy. But considering Sánchez’s lack of options at the moment and past record of leniency any possibility of demand for independence gaining traction again cannot be ruled out.
On the other hand, the PP has promised to make sedition an offence if they are voted to power. This leaves the parties in Catalonia, particularly the pro-independence parties, to side with the PSOE. Whether the PSOE would accede to their demands remains to be seen.
What is the role of the Vox?
Going into these elections, the Vox, a far-right party has been projected as a disruptor. There have been concerns that if Vox becomes the kingmaker, it could force PP’s hand into undoing several of the previous PSOE’s policies. Further Vox’s rise could also push the PP into conflict with the European Union (EU).
During his term Sánchez has passed laws on euthanasia, transgender rights, abortion and animal rights. The Vox has said that it will repeal these laws if voted to power. The Vox is also expected to clash with the EU on climate change and immigration policies. Fears are expressed that if Vox becomes a part of the government, it will try and take Spain back to the Franco-era. Certain leaders within the PP, which is projected to ally with the Vox, are also wary of the policies of the latter.
The Vox, which won 52 seats in the November 2019 elections, has managed to win only 33 seats this time. The PP, that had won 89 seats in November 2019, has won 136 seats which is an increase of 47 seats from the last time. While the smaller regional parties have lost a few seats in these elections, most of the gains for the PP have come at the cost of the Vox which has lost 19 seats.
Should the Vox would want to be a part of the government, the PP could negotiate with the Vox to scale down on its policies. For its part, the Vox could also consider these terms as it would get an opportunity to share power at the national level.
It is expected that Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, leader of the PP, would stake the claim to form the government by virtue of the PP emerging as largest party in these elections. However, failure to form government either on the part of Feijóo or Sánchez would result in elections being held again later, most probably towards the end of this year.
Lack of clear majority to any of the major parties has again pushed Spain towards political uncertainty. While the PSOE and the PP would try to form the government, it is difficult to predict if at all such a government would complete its term. The present situation is indicating a likelihood of Spain going to polls again in a few months.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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