Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s socialist party wins general election, but big gains by far-right Vox threaten to widen political schism
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists won national elections in Spain on Sunday, but big gains by the far-right Vox party look certain to deepen the political stalemate in the European Union’s fifth-largest economy.
Madrid: Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists won national elections in Spain on Sunday, but big gains by the far-right Vox party look certain to deepen the political stalemate in the European Union’s fifth-largest economy.
After a fourth national election in as many years and the second in less than seven months, the left-wing socialists have retained first place in the national parliament. With 99.9% of the votes counted, the Socialists won 120 seats, three seats less than the last elections in April and still far from the absolute majority of 176 needed to form a government on their own.
The big political shift came as right-wing voters flocked to Vox, which had only burst into parliament in the spring for the first time. Sunday’s result means there will be no immediate end to the standoff between right-wing and left-wing forces in Spain, suggesting the country could go several more weeks or even months without a new government.
The far-right party led by Santiago Abascal, 43, which speaks of the “reconquest” of Spain in terms that echo medieval wars between Christian and Moorish forces, was slumped from 24 to 52 seats. This will make Vox the third leading party in the Congress of Deputies, giving it much more leverage in forming a government and drafting legislation.
The party has pledged to be much tougher on Catalan separatists and migrants.
Abascal called his party’s success “the greatest political achievement ever seen in Spain”.
“Just 11 months ago we were not even in a regional legislature in Spain. Today we are the third largest party in Spain and the party that has increased the most in terms of votes and seats”, declared Abascal, who promised to fight against the “progressive dictatorship”.
Right-wing populist and anti-migrant leaders across Europe celebrated Vox’s strong performance.
Marine Le Pen, who leads France’s National Rally party, praised Abascal, saying his impressive work is “already bearing fruit after just a few years”.
In Italy, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League party tweeted a photo of himself next to Abascal with the words “Congratulations to Vox!” above the Spanish and Italian flags. And in the Netherlands, Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders posted a photo of himself with Abascal and wrote, “CONGRATULATIONS– Congratulations in Spanish – with three thumbs up emojis.
With Sunday’s result, the dominant conservative People’s Party rebounded from its previous debacle in the April vote to 88 of 66 seats, a historic low. The far-left United We Can, which had rejected an offer to help the Socialists form a leftist government over the summer, lost ground to 35 seats.
The clear loser of the evening was the centre-right Citizens party, which slumped to 10 seats from 57 in April after its leader Albert Rivera refused to help the Socialists form a government and tried to copy some of Vox’s tough positions.
Sánchez’s chances of staying in power still hinge on his eventual victory over the United We Can party and several regional parties, a complicated maneuver he has failed to pull off in recent months.
Sánchez called on opponents to be “responsible” and “generous” in allowing a Socialist-led government to remain in charge.
“We extend this call to all political parties except those that exclude themselves (…) and plant the seeds of hatred in our democracy,” he added, an apparent allusion to the extreme right and perhaps also to the Catalan separatist parties.
United We Can leader Pablo Iglesias offered his support for Sánchez.
“These elections have only served to strengthen the right and allow Spain to have one of the strongest far-right parties in Europe,” Iglesias said. “The only way to stop the far right in Spain is to have a stable government.”
Pablo Casado, the leader of the People’s Party, also pledged to work to end months of political instability. He said, however, that “the ball was in” Sánchez’s court. In recent months, his party and Citizens have struck deals with Vox to take over some city and regional governments.
Bonnie Field, professor of global studies at Bentley University in California, called the political situation “a mess from a government perspective.”
“Spanish politics are now increasingly complicated and any form of government will require many negotiations and people open to criticism,” she said.
The Socialists took a hit in the country’s Senate, losing their 133-seat absolute majority in the upper house of parliament amid major conservative inroads.
Julia Giobelina, a 34-year-old web designer from Madrid, was angry to have to vote for the second time this year. But she said she voted in hopes of stopping Vox.
“They are the new fascism,” Giobelina said. “We citizens must oppose the privatization of health care and other public services.”
Spain returned to democracy in the late 1970s after a right-wing dictatorship of nearly four decades under the late General Francisco Franco. The country was proud to claim that no far-right groups had seats in the national parliament, unlike the rest of Europe. That changed in the spring, but the Socialists’ victory in April was still seen by many as a respite for Europe, where right-wing parties had gained a lot of ground.
Vox relied on his anti-migrant message and his attacks on laws that protect women from domestic violence as well as what he sees as left-wing ideology disguised as political correctness. Yet he is not advocating a break with the EU in very pro-EU Spain.
It nonetheless thrived after recent riots in Catalonia by separatists, capitalizing on Spanish nationalist sentiment stoked by the country’s worst political conflict in decades. Many on the right were also unhappy with the socialist government’s exhumation of Franco’s remains last month from his gargantuan mausoleum so that he could no longer be exalted in a public place.
The debate over Catalonia, meanwhile, promises to escalate.
The three Catalan separatist parties won a combined 23 seats on Sunday.
Many Catalans were angered by last month’s ruling by Spain’s Supreme Court, which sentenced nine Catalan politicians and activists who led a 2017 campaign for the region’s independence to prison. The decision sparked massive daily protests in Catalonia that left more than 500 injured, about half of whom were police officers, and dozens of arrests.