ANALYSIS: Spain chooses left-wing regional diversity while Vox divides the right

Matthew Bennett
Matthew Bennett - [email protected]
ANALYSIS: Spain chooses left-wing regional diversity while Vox divides the right
Pedro Sanchez celebrates at the PSOE headquarters on election night. Photo: AFP

Matthew Bennett takes a look at the election's winners and losers and explores what's next for Spain.


The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) won Sunday's 2019 general election, increasing its share of seats in Congress, Spain's lower house of parliament, from 85 to 123, but still 53 seats of an overall majority (176). Pedro Sánchez took his party's share of the vote up 6 percent, or 1.75 million ballots.
The Prime Minister said Spaniards had voted to defend "rights and liberties, equality and social justice".
A coalition will be needed, but the prospects for some kind of a deal increased on Sunday night. Spanish pollsters could claim victory: in the end, their version of what was going on before and during the campaign was broadly right, with parties finishing in the same order as the polls had modelled for the preceding month. The media and social media buzz over-hyped expectations for Vox.
But Vox also won, at least compared to where the party was in 2016, when it had no seats at all. Santiago Abascal's party took 2.5 million votes on the Spanish right, 10.3 percent of the total, and 24 seats. In Spanish politics, that is a very decent sized chunk from a standing start. Spain now has its "far-right" or "national populist" or "ultra-conservative" party in parliament, depending on one's preferred label.
Abascal said "the resistance" had now arrived in Congress: "united, Spain will never be defeated".
Ciudadanos picked up 2.7 more percentage points, another 25 MPs, nearly doubling their 2016 total (32) to 57. Albert Rivera brought his party almost neck-and-neck with the Popular Party (PP) in terms of actual ballots: both parties over the four million mark, Rivera now just 200,000 votes shy of Pablo Casado, who had a disastrous night.
Rivera said Ciudadanos "has a future. One day, there will be a government that does not look left or right, but to the future".
The PP's future was uncertain on Sunday evening: the party lost more than half of its 137 MPs from 2016, dropping 71 all the way down to 66 in one go. 3.8 million voters gave up on the party that until last May was governing the country, under former leader Mariano Rajoy.
After his historic loss, Casado said that, for now at least, that the PP would lead the opposition "responsibly" as it decided what to do next.
Podemos (or rather the group of parties that is normally labelled Podemos) also had a terrible night, shedding 28 MPs, 6 points and 1.3 million ballots. Pablo Iglesias said "we would have liked a better result" but that it was "enough to fulfil our two goals: stopping the right and the extreme right and to build a left-wing coalition government".
Regional nationalists as a block—and Republican Catalan Left (Esquerra) specifically in Catalonia—had a good night, increasing their joint share of seats from 25 in 2016 to 37. Esquerra added six MPs to bring it up to 15 in total, and passed the one million votes mark. Mr. Puigdemont's party, Junts per Catalunya, increased its votes slightly to 494,000, but dropped one seat to seven.
In the Basque Country, both flavours of Basque nationalism—the conservative PNV and the radical-left EH Bildu—did better than three years ago, increasing from five to six seats and two to four seats respectively, another 176,000 votes between them.
This general election also sees another seat for the Canary Islands Coalition, two for Navarra Suma, and one for the Regionalist Party of Cantabria.
Altogether, a total of 2.4 million Spaniards voted for some kind of regional-nationalist party, up 744,000 from 2016, without including the regional bits of what is considered to be Podemos.
Very importantly, given the Catalan separatist issue, Spain's upper house of parliament, the Senate, changed hands from the Popular Party to the PSOE. The chances of another suspension of home rule in the north-eastern region now fall drastically, if not to zero, then nearly.
Five men elected tonight as either MPs or senators for Esquerra and Junts per Catalunya are currently in prison on remand and on trial at the Supreme Court: Oriol Junqueras (MP, Barcelona), Jordi Sánchez (MP, Barcelona), Jordi Turull (MP, Lérida), Josep Rull (MP, Tarragona) and Rául Romeva (senator, Barcelona).
All of which brings us to the question of coalitions, not as difficult an issue with these results as it might have been with others.
There is no option for a three-way right-wing coalition (PP, Ciudadanos and Vox) to govern. They only add up to 147 seats, nearly 30 short. A left-wing coalition with just the PSOE and Podemos doesn't work either at 166 seats, still ten short.
That means Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias would need some kind of support from some kind of regional nationalists. Would they go with Esquerra and the Catalan separatists or try to do a deal with the Basques? Would Catalan separatists demand anything remotely realistic in return or stick to their unconstitutional demands for independence or for the Spanish government to trash the separation of powers and free the accused at the Supreme Court?
The now powerless Spanish right, split in three and with the Vox part rampantly national populist, would anger greatly at such a deal.
So there is another option that will be put on the table tomorrow morning: a centre-left PSOE and Ciudadanos deal, which adds up to 180 MPs in Congress, four over the line for a majority.
Sánchez and Rivera will gnash their teeth and struggle and kick and shout loudly in public that they cannot possibly do such a dastardly deal after everything that has been said during the campaign, and with high levels of personal animosity between the two men. But Brussels and the markets would look favourably upon such a deal, it is a realistic option and it would provide more stability for the next four years than a Super Frankenstein further-left government with a disjointed bunch of regional nationalists.
Waking on Monday morning, political leaders will not only have the election victories and defeats in mind but will also have a keen eye on the local, regional and European elections that take place on May 26th. This year's campaigning isn't over yet.

Matthew Bennett is the creator of The Spain Report. You can read more of his writing on Patreon, and follow him on Twitter. Don't miss his podcast series with weekly in-depth analysis on Spain.




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