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Bittersweet night for Spain's right as vote yields hung parliament

AFP
AFP - [email protected]
Bittersweet night for Spain's right as vote yields hung parliament
The leader and candidate of conservative Partido Popular (People's Party) Alberto Núñez Feijóo (L) next to PP spokesperson Cuca Gamarra and Madrid regional president Isabel Díaz Ayuso (R). (Photo by Pierre-Philippe MARCOU / AFP)

Despite polls predicting victory for Spain's right-wing Popular Party, Sunday's election resulted in a hung parliament, offering a lifeline to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez who could cling on to power through a jigsaw of alliances.

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The closely-watched vote took place just three weeks after Spain took over the rotating presidency of the European Union with the European left bracing for a fresh blow.

With 100 percent of the ballots counted, the PP won with 136 seats, while the prime minister's Socialists came second with 122 in the 350-seat parliament -- both far from the 176 needed for a governing majority.

And neither was able to reach that figure even with support from their main political partners, with the far-right Vox counting 33 mandates and the radical left-wing Sumar winning 31.

With the PP and Vox falling short of a working majority, that gives the left-wing bloc a fresh chance to form another government because the Socialists have more options to create alliances.

In power for five years, Sánchez is in a far better position than his rival to seek the support needed to piece together a coalition, notably from the Basque and Catalan separatist parties for whom Vox is a bogeyman.

Polls had predicted a decisive victory for Alberto Nunez Feijóo's PP, which was seen winning 145-150 seats. But without a working majority, the party would have been forced to turn to Vox for support to govern.

"Spain and all its citizens who voted have been absolutely clear: the backwards-looking bloc that wanted to roll back all the progress we made over the past four years has failed," said a clearly jubilant Sánchez who focused his campaign on the danger of a PP-Vox government.

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'A real surprise'

"It is a real surprise given what the expectations were," said Antonio Barroso, an analyst at political consultancy Teneo, with the Socialists "holding up much better than expected".

"The challenge for Sánchez is to find a majority, it all depends on one or two seats," he told AFP.

"There are two scenarios: either Sánchez forms a government or there is a repeat election," he explained.

In remarks after the count, Feijóo said he would push for the chance to form a government as the party with the most votes.

"As the candidate of the party that won the most seats, I believe it is my duty" to try to form a government," he told supporters outside the PP headquarters in Madrid.

But Barroso said he was unlikely to get anywhere.

"Feijóo is going to try and argue that the party with the most votes governs, but he will need the Socialists to abstain (to be sworn in) they won't give him that."

Given the results, Sánchez could rally 172 lawmakers behind him and return to power, if the hardline Catalan separatist party JxCat did not vote against him.

Otherwise, Spain will find itself once again in deadlock and forced to hold a new election, as it did in 2019.

Supporters react as they wait for elections results in front of the headquarters of the leader and candidate of conservative Partido Popular (People's Party) in Madrid. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)
 

A closely-watched vote

Sánchez, 51, called the snap polls in late May after his Socialist party and its far-left junior coalition partners suffered a drubbing in local and regional elections in which the right surged.

He focused his campaign on warning about the danger of a PP-Vox government in order to mobilise the electorate in a strategy that appears to have paid off, with turnout reaching almost 70 percent, some 3.5 percentage points higher than in 2019.

Feijóo, who took over as head of the PP in April 2022 after 13 years as head of the northwestern Galicia region, had focused his campaign on vowing to "overthrow Sanchismo" a derogative term for Sánchez's policies.

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He pledged to "overturn all those minority-inspired laws that harm the majority" including legislation on gender self-determination and a botched rape law that let more than 1,000 convicted sex offenders secure a reduction in their sentences.

The vote has been closely watched from abroad over the possibility, which now seems unlikely, of a government in which the far right held its first share of power since the Franco dictatorship ended in 1975.

Vox, which jointly rules three of Spain's 17 regions with the PP, pledged to roll back laws on gender violence, LGBTQ rights, abortion and euthanasia, as well as a democratic memory law honouring the victims of the dictatorship.

In an op-ed in France's Le Monde, Britain's former prime minister Gordon Brown called Vox's agenda "chilling", warning its entry into government "would push Europe one step further into a right-wing abyss".

Despite a strong economic performance on his watch, Sánchez's standing has suffered due to the political deals his minority coalition has had to make to push through legislation, notably with Catalan and Basque separatist parties.

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