Spain is on track for a hung parliament following the national elections on Sunday, as both right and left-wing parties struggle to form a clear path towards a new government. With 99 percent of votes counted by 11:45 pm (21:45 GMT) on Sunday, the conservative opposition People’s Party (PP) secured 136 seats, while Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) obtained 122 seats.
The potential kingmaker parties were almost evenly matched, with the far-right Vox party holding 33 seats and the far-left Sumar securing 31 seats. Vox’s result represents a loss of 19 seats compared to four years earlier, as they campaigned on a platform to roll back laws on gender violence, LGBTQ rights, abortion, and euthanasia.
Spain’s national elections on Sunday resulted in parties on both the right & left needing a clear path to form a new government. By 11:45 PM (GMT) on Sunday, the conservative opposition PP secured 136 seats, while the ruling Socialist PSOE won 122 seats.#SpainElection2023 #Spain pic.twitter.com/I0y3JosnuZ
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) July 24, 2023
Despite finishing second, Sanchez’s Socialists and allied parties celebrated the outcome as a victory since their combined forces gained slightly more seats than the PP and the far-right. The bloc that could likely support Sanchez reached 172 seats, while the right bloc, led by PP’s Alberto Nunez Feijoo, was likely at 170.
Uncertainty in Spanish Politics
Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego, reporting from Madrid, emphasized that Spain is again in political limbo. The direction the country will take remains uncertain, with questions about whether it will continue under the vision of Mr. Sanchez or undergo a change under a government led by Mr. Feijoo, she explained.
The unexpectedly close outcome for the two blocs will likely result in weeks of political maneuvering and uncertainty surrounding the country’s future leadership. Negotiations to form governments are set to begin after the new parliament convenes on August 17.
Describing Sunday’s election outcome as a defeat for the far-right, Sanchez conveyed a clear message to the citizens of Spain during a jubilant gathering at the Socialists’ headquarters in Madrid. He highlighted that the bloc aiming to reverse the progress made in the past four years had been unsuccessful.
The decision to call for snap polls in late May came after Sanchez’s Socialist party and its far-left junior coalition partners faced a setback in local and regional elections, which saw a surge in support for the right-wing parties. His campaign focused on alerting voters about the potential dangers of a PP-Vox government, and this strategy appears to have worked as voter turnout reached almost 70 percent, 3.5 percentage points higher than in 2019.
Nation Divided After Polling Outcome
Feijoo, who assumed leadership of the PP in April 2022, centered his campaign on promising to dismantle “Sanchismo,” a derogatory term for Sanchez’s policies. Following the vote count, the conservative opposition leader expressed his intention to pursue the opportunity to form a government, given that his party secured the most seats.
“As the candidate of the party with the highest number of seats, I believe it is my responsibility to attempt to form a government,” he stated, addressing his supporters outside the PP headquarters in Madrid. Feijoo may persuade smaller parties to support a PP-Vox coalition to achieve this. However, many of these parties seem hesitant to back the rise of a far-right party to power, given that it would be the first time since the rule of dictator Francisco Franco, who passed away in 1975.
Before the election, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) started it had no agreement with PP and Vox, and Teruel Existe confirmed it would not support such a coalition. While Sanchez has multiple negotiation options, he may still face challenges in forming a majority, as potential allies may seek concessions in exchange for their support.
In the current situation, Sanchez’s PSOE would heavily rely on Catalan separatist parties, the Junts, ERC, or Basque separatists EH Bildu. However, if Junts demands a referendum on independence for northeast Catalonia, it could be too high a cost for Sanchez to bear.
“We won’t make Pedro Sanchez prime minister in exchange for nothing,” Miriam Nogueras of Junts declared after the election results left her party with the decisive role in shaping the government.
The Rise of Hung Parliaments
In recent years, hung parliaments have become commonplace in Spain, driven by the fragmentation of the country’s politics and the emergence of new parties challenging the traditional dominance of the PP and the PSOE. Spain witnessed two elections within six months in late 2015 and 2016, leading to a 10-month deadlock until the Socialists eventually abstained from a confidence vote, allowing the PP to form a minority government.
In 2019, two more elections occurred before the PSOE and far-left Podemos agreed to form Spain’s first coalition government. Pablo Calderon Martinez, a professor at Northeastern University, stated that Sunday’s election outcome reflects a “divided country.”
“The Socialist Party has exceeded expectations to some extent, whereas the right-wing bloc may have fallen short, resulting in a deeply divided country. Observing the negotiations for the next government will be intriguing,” he remarked.