29th Sep 2023

Vox's failure leaves Spain with hung parliament

  • Pedro Sánchez's socialists celebrating on Sunday night, after the lack of a majority for the rightwing bloc of PP and Vox paved the way for a fresh leftwing coalition potentially staying in power (Photo: PSOE)
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Sunday's election in Spain has left a fragmented political landscape, where no party or potential coalition has achieved a clear working majority — raising concerns about a stalemate or even new elections.

After all the votes were counted, the conservative People's Party (PP) secured 136 seats, the Socialists (PSOE) 122, the far-right Vox 33 seats, and the left-wing Sumar won 31.

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While the PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo and prime minister Pedro Sánchez's PSOE both overnight declared victory, neither of the main parties secured an outright majority of 176 seats in the country's 350-member lower house.

Despite the summer holidays, voter turnout rose to 70.40 percent, an increase from the 66.2 percent in the previous election in 2019.

Contrary to what opinion polls indicated, the rightwing bloc failed to secure a majority, largely due to the far-right Vox's lower-then-expected setback.

Vox lost 19 seats compared to the previous general election, making them the major loser of the election night.

However, about three million Spaniards voted for the anti-feminist and anti-migration Vox, some 12 percent of total turnout.

"Spain has been clear … the involutionary, backward block, which proposed the repeal of the progress made in these four years, has failed," Sánchez told supporters on Sunday night.

Reacting to the election outcome, the leader of the European socialist group, Spanish MEP Iratxe García Pérez, said that she was proud to see Spaniards voting "to stop the far-right, their lies and hatred".

"Good news for the EU. I hope the EPP [European People's Party] gets the message," she tweeted.

Frankenstein government

The rightwing block PP and Vox together now have a total of 169 seats, and the leftwing PSOE and Sumar, 153.

Núñez Feijóo, who will try will try to form a minority government, said on Monday that his obligation now is to avoid "a period of uncertainty" in Spain.

But the PP and Vox are expected to face difficulties in finding additional 11 supporters among the smaller parties as many are reluctant to let into government the first far-right group in the country since the Franco era.

On the other hand, Sánchez might attempt once more to create what has been dubbed the 'Frankenstein government'.

This term alludes to a diverse coalition that encompasses not only leftwing parties but also Catalan separatists, small regional parties, and two Basque political groups.

While Catalan pro-independence forces lost weight in the lower house (going from 23 to 14 seats), their support will be key for forming a coalition government led by Sánchez socialists.

Unexpectedly, a leftwing coalition would require Sánchez to negotiate and find common ground with the Catalan pro-independence party Junts, led by MEP Carles Puigdemont, who is in exile in Belgium.

This could potentially pose significant challenges during negotiations as the cost of Junts' support is still to be determined. "We will not make Sánchez prime minister in exchange for nothing," said Miriam Nogueras, head of the Junts list, on election night.

"Junts owes nothing to anyone but their voters," said Puigdemont in a tweet.

In contrast to the other Catalan pro-independence party, ERC, which backed Sánchez's previous administration, Junts actively opposed the government and voted against its proposals.

Additionally, the support of Galicia's (BNG) and Basque country's regional parties (Bildu and PNV) will also be crucial for a leftwing coalition.

Uncertainty and elections fears

EPP leader, Manfred Weber, meanwhile welcomed the outcome of the Spanish election, pointing out that the conservative leader Feijóo has "a clear mandate to form a government that reflects this will for change."

Given the challenges the socialists faced in governing over the last four years, conservative lawmakers argue that this minority 'Frankenstein' government is likely to result in political gridlock or new elections.

"Either an investiture with Feijóo materialises or what Sánchez proposes is the blockade and electoral repetition," PP secretary general Cuca Gamarra told Spanish television on Monday (24 July).

Once the lower house is reconvened on 17 August, King Felipe VI is expected to invite the leader of the largest party, Núñez Feijóo, to attempt to secure his position as prime minister — an invitation that could be declined, as occurred in 2016, due to insufficient support.

If the conservative leader declines, Sánchez will be approached with the same request.

If no candidate manages to secure a majority within two months of the initial prime ministerial vote, new elections will be called.

Meanwhile, there are growing concerns about the potential ramifications of these inconclusive election results on Spain's presidency of the EU Council.

Following a disappointing outcome in the regional elections held in May, Sánchez called the surprise snap election in July.

Despite concerns that this move could backfire, it appears strategic since today he is actually more likely to retain his position of power.

Meanwhile, the PP achieved a majority by securing 120 seats out of the upper house, where 208 of 265 members are elected by the population.

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