Elections in Europe rarely produce conclusive results these days. Not in Spain, however, where Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party clearly won Sunday’s election. The far-right Vox made a significant breakthrough and also entered parliament; but it is intended to exert only a marginal influence. Compared to the rest of Europe, Spain now appears as a bastion of social democracy, and a defender of a pro-European and progressive policy.
The history of Spanish elections is one where the moderates triumphed and the radicals failed
Sánchez brought his party down from a historic low of just 84 seats in 2016, securing 123 seats (out of 350). The key to his success was his ability to convince voters of the need to unite around him to stop Vox, who in December surprised him by entering the Andalusian parliament with nearly 11% of the vote.
Vox has gone from 46,781 votes in 2016 – just 0.2% of the votes – to 2.6 million votes now – 10.3% and 24 seats. Fears were that opinion polls had, as in the past, seriously underestimated his strength, opening up the possibility for him to become the kingmaker. Compared to Austria (where the Freedom Party won 29.4% of the vote), Italy (Lega; 21.7%), France (National Rally; 21.3%), Sweden ( SD; 17.5%) or Finland (True Finns; 17.5%), Vox is smaller and less influential.
The Socialist Party’s contemporary echo of the “No pasarán” chanted by Madrid defenders in the 1930s helped mobilize the leftist vote: turnout soared to 75.75%, the fourth highest since 1977. But the mistakes of the conservative Partido Popular (PP) played their part. Led by Pablo Casado, the party misread the mood of voters and shifted sharply to the right, both rhetorically and politically. In doing so, he not only failed to stem the hemorrhage of votes to Vox, but also paved the way for the rise of Albert Rivera’s Ciudadanos (Citizens) party, which led the PP narrowly. just 220,000 behind him.
In a Europe dominated by the centre-right, often in coalition with the extreme right, the Spanish conservatives have gone from an absolute majority of 186 seats in 2011 (out of 44.63% of the vote) to 66 seats today, won a paltry 16.7 percent. Austerity played a role, but mainly the legacy of corruption and the PP’s sharp rightward shift took a heavy toll.
The progress of Ciudadanos and the decline of Podemos show that the history of Spanish elections is one in which the moderates triumphed and the radicals failed. Indeed, Rivera’s party is the second winner of the evening. Starting with just 32 seats and 13% of the vote, Ciudadanos now holds 57 seats in parliament won with 15.9% of the vote. Given Casado’s poor results and Rivera’s great success, Ciudadanos will try to use the upcoming European, municipal and regional elections on May 26 to defeat the PP and make Ciudadanos the main effective opposition party. And he could well achieve this if a leadership crisis sets in within the PP. As for Podemos, the radical left party that rocked the 2016 elections with 71 seats and 21.10% of the vote, its territorial fragmentation and leadership crises reduced its number of seats to 42 and a share of 14.3. voice. This should see the party continue to moderate its rhetoric and policies to secure influence over the Sánchez government, which it is eager to enter.
After that ? Not much will happen in terms of coalitions before May 26. Sánchez is in a comfortable position: he can look left and aim to build a parliamentary majority with Podemos and the nationalists. Or, depending on how things develop on his right, he may even turn to Ciudadanos and discuss updating a political deal the two parties signed in 2016. That’s unlikely given Rivera’s wish to become the leader of the right, and given the proximity of the next round of elections. But that could emerge later if Sánchez’s nationalist claims go too far.
As in the past, Catalonia will be Sánchez’s weakest point: remember that this was a snap election called after the government failed to pass a budget following party demands Catalan secessionist unacceptable to socialists. Sánchez saw the threat from the right wing of the political spectrum unite against him based on his connections to pro-independence forces in Catalonia. But it remains to be seen how Catalonia’s push for a referendum will play out. Nor is the question of a pardon for the imprisoned leaders of the 2017 secession attempt going away. The Republican Left of Catalonia and Together for Catalonia parties are both in parliament – and the referendum and pardon form key demands of both, although they have split on other issues.
Spanish voters were asked a simple question in this election: Should we go right on politics and be tough on Catalonia, or left on politics and soft on Catalonia? The answer is clear: Spaniards have rejected polarization around national identity and opted for moderate and progressive policies.
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