Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Far-right Vox celebrates, as Spain left without majority

  • The Socialist Party (PSOE) of caretaker prime minister Pedro Sánchez won the highest number of seats, but once again fell short of an absolute majority (Photo: PSOE)

Vox, the first far-right party in Spain since the death of dictator Francisco Franco, gained strong support in Sunday's elections (10 November), jumping from 24 to 52 seats in the 350-seat house, becoming the third-largest party in the country.

"We have changed the political landscape of Spain in eleven months. We have begun a political and cultural revolution," Vox leader Santiago Abascal said.

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With the most fragmented result in the history of Spanish politics, the numbers point to a legislative stalemate with neither the left nor right having a majority.

The Socialist Party (PSOE) of caretaker prime minister Pedro Sánchez won the highest number of seats (120) but once again fell short of an absolute majority, in what was the fourth Spanish election in just four years.

Second-place was taken by the conservative Popular Party (PP) that won 20.8 percent of the votes (88 seats), followed by the far-right Vox with 15.1 percent of the votes (52 seats), the leftist party Unidas Podemos (UP) 12.8 percent (35 seats), pro-independence party the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) 3.6 percent (13 seats) and Ciudadanos 6.8 percent (10 seats) - among other regional and small parties.

The PP saw a boost in support compared to April's previous elections, when it had its worst electoral result ever - with only 66 deputies in the congress.

The rise of the PP and Vox have consolidated right-wing positions in the congress, while the centre has become almost irrelevant.

The centre-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens) suffered the biggest defeat on Sunday, dropping to just 10 seats compared to the 57 in April.

Its leader, Albert Ribera, submitted his resignation on Monday from both his party roles and his seat in the congress, according to El País.

Additionally, there are three new parties in the Spanish political game - Más País (More Country) won three seats, the far-left and pro-independence Catalan CUP party (2 seats), and the regional party ¡Teruel existe! (1 seat).

Turnout dropped from 75.5 percent in April to 69.9 percent.

Alliances

The economic crisis in Spain put an end to bipartisanship, as it prompted many new and smaller parties, chipping away at majorities that for decades were held by the socialists and the PP.

However, in a country with no tradition or experience of coalition governments, a deeply-fragmented political scenario could turn into an endless struggle to form a stable government.

PP leader Pablo Casado acknowledged the "incompatible interests" between his party and PSOE, closing the door to a grand coalition, and said that Sanchez was "the big loser" of the night.

"Sanchez has lost, now it's much more difficult for him to form a government," Casado said.

Sanchez also rejected the idea of a grand coalition with the conservatives but has asked PP and centre-right party Ciudadanos to consider the possibility of a "technical abstention" in his investiture session, in order to rule with a minority government.

The most immediate likely outcome seems to be a minority socialist government. But it is still unclear who its allies could be and how long such a government could last.

PSOE and Unidas Podemos (UP) lost together a total of ten deputies, decreasing the possibility for a coalition between both parties, as they would need the support of other regional and smaller parties.

"We're ready to negotiate [a coalition government]", said the leader of the far-left Unidas Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, adding that these elections have prompted "one of the strongest far-right in Europe".

Earlier this year, Sanchez tried to agree on a coalition programme with UP, but negotiations broke down, leading to a serious increase of distrust between the two parties.

Catalan effect

Sunday's elections took place amid tensions between the central government and the separatist regional government of Catalonia, as well as growing concerns over the country's economy.

The unemployment rate in Spain is 14.2 percent - the highest in Europe after Greece - and the European Commission downgraded Spain's growth forecast down from 2.3 percent to 1.9 percent for this year, and from 1.9 percent to 1.5 percent for 2020.

However, the issue of Catalonia once again dominated the campaign - which has helped the far-right Vox party surge as the main option for more than three million Spaniards, despite the attempts of PSOE and PP to harden their positions on this matter.

Vox's hardline message has grown since the far-right party entered regional government for the first time in December 2018, with 12 seats in the regional parliament of Andalusia.

During a televised debate ahead of the election, Vox pledged to outlaw all separatist parties and send the current Catalan president, Quim Torra, to prison.

A year ago, Spain was one of few countries in Europe without a far-right xenophobic party sitting in parliament. Today, the far-right has a bigger representation than in Germany or the Netherlands.

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The Spanish King Felipe VI started 48-hours of meetings with the political leaders on Tuesday to determine whether the socialist caretaker prime minister Pedro Sánchez stands a chance of becoming the new head of government.

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