Despite a resounding victory for the ruling socialist government, Spain’s latest elections suggest a gradual rise of reactionary, authenticity-obsessed politics.
Rabat – Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s socialist party scored a big victory in Sunday’s snap elections in Spain. But an equally big result for right-wing parties meant the experience was more of a setback for the country’s ruling socialist party.
The challenge of coalition
With slight differences here and there in scores obtained by different contenders, poll predictions that Sanchez’s Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) would win turned out to be right. But the polls were also correct in predicting that PSOE would fall short of the majority needed to rule alone.
PSOE won about 29% of the vote, translating into 123 seats in the 350-seat Spanish Parliament. The number is a big win for the socialist party, whose Parliament membership stood at 84 seats prior to Sunday’s elections. But that score is still far below the 176 needed to secure the majority.
In retrospect, the snap elections have not exactly provided the answers the ruling coalition had expected. Instead, the results suggest that the country’s political fracture is far deeper than the political establishment thought. Even with a meaningful victory, there was very little to celebrate for Spain’s ruling leftist coalition.
Podemos and other left-leaning formations, on whom Sanchez could count to form a more coherent government coalition, did not score enough to bar the prospect of seeking help from right-wing parties.
“Efforts at coalition wrangling in the country could take longer because of the incoming local, regional and European elections on May 26, with parties unwilling to declare their hand until the end of the electoral season,” Politico observed.
But the Guardian’s assessment was grimmer, stressing the growing momentum of the once-isolated far right in Spanish politics. “Sunday’s results are unequivocal proof of the advent of Vox in the era of five-party politics in Spain,” the British paper lamented.
The conservative People’s Party secured 66 seats, the center-right Citizens Party won 57 seats, Podemos and allies landed 42, while Vox—perhaps the biggest winner—secured a comforting score of 24 seats. The result makes Vox the first ever far-right party to make it to Parliament in 40 years of post-Franco democratic experience.
Two visions of Spain
Sanchez’s PSOE landed a surprising victory in June 2018 after challenging the then-ruling People’s Party with a no-confidence vote over corruption allegations.
But Sanchez was later compelled to call for Sunday’s snap elections in February after a coalition of nationalist and far-right parties opposed his 2019 budget and other legislative measures.
In calling for Spaniards to go to polls for the fourth time in three years, Sanchez hoped for a conclusive victory. Speaking on Sunday moments after casting his ballot, he spoke of “calmness, serenity, and resolution” to mend a politically fragmented Spain.
Evoking the in-fashion Trump and Brexit analogy, the Spanish prime minister urged voters to “look to the future” rather than backwards. A victory for his party, he predicted, would be “the difference between a Spain that looks towards the future and a Spain that slides back 40 years.”
By the time results starting to sink in late Sunday, Sanchez, momentarily unconcerned by the success of right-wing parties and what the setback that could mean for his otherwise milestone victory, decided to focus on the bright side. He appeared to take pleasure and pride in his party’s leap from 84 to 123 seats.
“We made it happen. We have sent out the message that we don’t regress or reverse. We want a country that looks forward and advances.”
In response, Vox’s message was defiant and dismissive, calling Sanchez’s victory “ephemeral.” Vox leader Santiago Abascal called his party’s performance “a re-conquest of Spain,” a historical reference to the 15th-century defeat of the Moors and the expulsion of Spanish Jews.
Founded in 2013 by frustrated members of the conservative People’s Party, Vox remained on the fringes of national politics until now. The party was ignored and deemed irrelevant in national debates until it secured a shock political breakthrough in Andalucia during the December 2018 regional elections.
The party styles itself as avowedly Christian, conservative, and nationalist, scathingly criticizing Sanchez’s socialist party’s stance on Catalan separatism and migration. Banning pro-Catalan independence political parties is among the party’s priorities.
Vox also denounces mutlticulturalism, feminism, and “unrestricted migration.”
Like President Trump, Vox’s Abascal has maintained that his goal is to “make Spain great gain.”