Spain's far-right doubles seats in hung parliament

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists must now negotiate to form government

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called for a "progressive government". EPA 
Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called for a "progressive government". EPA 

Spain looks set to endure many more months of political uncertainty after the country’s fourth election in as many years reflected a widening political chasm between parties on the left and the right, with the far-right Vox party more than doubling its seats.

After Sunday’s national vote, no party has a clear mandate to govern and a far-right party has become a major parliamentary player in Spain for the first time in decades.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists won the most seats – 120 – but fell far short of a majority in the 350-seat chamber and will need to make deals on several fronts if they are to govern.

Right-wing voters, meanwhile, flocked to Vox, giving it 52 seats to become the parliament’s third-largest party, behind the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party, which surged back to win 88 seats.

On the streets of Madrid, many people were scratching their heads over what would happen next.

“I think we are worse than before, we are more divided,” said police officer Antonio Prados, 44. “I don’t know, there’s a possibility to form a government, but I don’t know how they will come up with the numbers.”

Mr Sanchez called the election after he failed to gain enough support to form a government after the previous election in April – but won three fewer seats on Sunday than seven months ago.

Andrew Dowling, an expert on contemporary Spanish politics at Cardiff University in Wales, said Mr Sanchez’s plan to come out with a stronger mandate had backfired.

“The Spanish Socialist party made a major miscalculation in calling new elections,” Mr Dowling said.

Adding to his woes, his closest allies, the left-wing Podemos party, fell from 42 to 35 seats.

Sunday’s ballot also went badly for the right-of-centre Citizens party, which captured just 10 seats, down from 57 seats in April. Party leader Albert Rivera quit on Monday after the debacle but was not the only person hurt by it.

Mr Sanchez, who will struggle to form a government, has “fewer options because of the collapse of Citizens”, said Mr Dowling.

Disputes over the independence movement in the north-eastern region of Catalonia will continue to fester, with three Catalan separatist parties winning a combined 23 seats.

On Monday, Catalan radicals resumed their protests by blocking a major highway border pass between France and Spain and promising to keep it shut for three days.

In his victory speech, Mr Sanchez promised again to “obtain a progressive government”.

The next step will be for parliamentarians to select a house speaker in the coming weeks and for talks then between King Felipe VI and party leaders to begin so that one of them, most likely Mr Sanchez, will be called on to try to form a government.

Right-wing populist and anti-migrant leaders across Europe, meanwhile, celebrated Vox’s strong showing.

Marine Le Pen, who heads France’s National Rally party, congratulated Vox leader Santiago Abascal, saying his impressive work “is already bearing fruit after only a few years”.

Vox’s surge and the gains by the Popular Party capitalised on Spanish nationalist sentiment stirred up by the Socialists’ handling of the secessionist conflict in Catalonia.

Many right-wingers were also not pleased by the Socialist government’s exhumation of late dictator Francisco Franco’s remains from his mausoleum last month so that he could no longer be exalted in a public place.

Many Catalans have been angered by the Supreme Court’s prison sentences last month for nine Catalan politicians and activists who led a 2017 drive for the region’s independence. The ruling triggered massive daily protests in Catalonia that left more than 500 people injured.

Capital Economics, a London-based research company, said it expected no short-term economic difficulties after the vote because Spain’s economy had remained healthy despite the past four years of political gridlock.

But it warned that deep, long-term economic reforms are needed to keep Spain competitive in its labour markets and pension system, and deadlock has kept those efforts on hold.

Updated: November 11, 2019 05:15 PM


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