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What's the latest on Spain's election deadlock?

The Local Spain
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What's the latest on Spain's election deadlock?
Most polls assumed that Popular Party candidate Alberto Núñez Feijóo would have become Spain's new Prime Minister by now. (Photo by Javier SORIANO / AFP)

It's been more than two weeks since Spain's general election ended in an apparent stalemate. Is the country any nearer to deciding who will govern for the next four years? Who and what could end up determining the outcome?


When Spaniards went to the polls on July 23rd, pollsters had consistently predicted that the Spanish right would win a resounding victory and oust incumbent Socialist (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Yet when the results came in on that Sunday night, it became clear that the polls were wrong and neither the Spanish left or right had won enough votes to get a governable majority.

Both Sánchez and centre-right Partido Popular (PP) leader Alberto Feijóo claimed victory but neither had won enough seats to govern — Congress was deadlocked. Then Spanish politics fell into a strange limbo land that left many wondering… what happens now?

Despite winning the most votes, the PP has less potential coalition partners than Sánchez’s PSOE, and in the two weeks since the election parties across the political spectrum have been locked in negotiations to try and find a way of getting their block to the all important 176 seats and an absolute majority in Spain's Congress of Deputies.

READ ALSO: Sánchez named Spain's caretaker PM after inconclusive vote

So where do things stand two weeks after the vote? Is either block closer to getting the seats, support and, ultimately, the government?

Here's what you need to know about the latest developments in Spain's election deadlock.


Far right steps aside

One of the underlying themes of the election campaign was the prospect of the far-right Vox party entering into a government coalition with the PP. In fact, the growth of Vox in local and regional elections was one of the reasons Sánchez called the snap election in the first place. 

Though Vox performed poorly in the election, losing 20 seats, the far-right party has long been considered the kingmaker for any potential PP government.

Yet as negotiations continued last week, it seems the prospect of the far-right gaining power in Spain for the first time since Franco may well have passed. That certainly seems to have been implied by Vox’s paso al lado (step aside) to potentially allow the PP to govern alone.

In the statement made over the weekend, Vox promised that its 33 deputies "would support a constitutional majority" in the Congress of Deputies that would allow the formation of a government to avoids the supposed "threat" of a second Sánchez government.

"Vox will not be anyone's excuse or the impediment to avoid a government of those who seek to destroy the foundations of the Constitution," the statement read, confirming that it would not implement any red lines in negotiations (Vox Ministers in government, for example) and will essentially unconditionally lend its votes to the PP if it prevented a Sánchez government.

READ ALSO: Aragón becomes fourth region in Spain where far right has share of power


Basque Nationalists

By stepping aside, Vox have freed up the PP to intensify negotiations with the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and Canary Islands Coalition. The PP could, in theory, achieve a simple majority at the second round of vote with the support of these two regionalist parties.

Until now, the PNV had flatly refused to support the PP if Vox was anywhere near negotiations. With Vox stepping aside (publicly at least) Feijóo and the PP may now have more scope to negotiate.



Postal vote gives extra seat to PP

Another development since the election is that the congressional arithmetic has become even tighter, following news that the postal votes of Spaniards abroad gifted a seat to the PP.

Some 233,688 Spaniards living abroad voted in the J23 election, the result of which was to give the PP an extra seat in Madrid. Thought it was just one seat, with the government so finely balanced, the main effect of this is that it means Sánchez’s PSOE now need to the explicit support of Catalan party Junts as opposed to its abstention alone.



Sánchez on holiday in Morocco

With all this going on, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has still found time to take a holiday in Morocco during coalition negotiations.

Why is that important? Well, despite the fact that the Spanish security forces had planned for a trip to Lanzarote and the decision to head to the North African neighbour was reportedly a last minute one, Morocco is a live political issue in Spain.

Or rather, Sánchez and Morocco specifically is a live political issue. Sánchez has incensed rivals in recent years when he made diplomatic concessions to Rabat over the territory of the Western Sahara. 

When it was revealed that Sánchez’s phone was hacked as part of the Pegasus scandal, it came at a time of heightened political tensions between Madrid and Rabat and many on the Spanish right suggested Morocco was behind the security breach. During the J23 election campaign part of the Spanish right’s anti-Sanchismo rhetoric suggested that the Moroccans had incriminating information on the Spanish Prime Minister.

Why he would think now is the time for a trip to Morocco is unclear. Speaking to the Spanish press, PP sources have called the decision a ‘clear provocation’.



Another interesting wrinkle to the ongoing coalition negotiations is that the future of the Spanish government will likely come down to the support of Catalonian separatists.

Any Sánchez led government coalition will need the support of both ERC and Junts, two Catalan parties. ERC are expected to back Sánchez and the PSOE, as it did in 2019, so the fate of the Spanish government could come down to Junts and former Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont, a man who tried to lead Catalonia in seceding from Spain in 2017.

Puigdemont, who has been in self-imposed exile in Waterloo, Belgium since orchestrating the failed illegal independence referendum, is likely to be kingmaker and could, according to reports in the Spanish press, even personally take part in the negotiations.

What would Junts demand for their support? Likely another referendum and an amnesty on exiled former leaders, some of whom, like Puigdemont, are wanted by Spanish courts.

READ MORE: Fugitive Catalan leader could determine who governs in Spain


The role of the King

Amid the political stalemate, Spain's King Felipe VI could play a crucial role in unlocking the deadlock. But it is certainly a delicate position for the monarch to be in, mainly because there are no ironclad constitutional rules on deciding between the party with the most votes or the party most likely to garner a governable coalition.

According to Joaquín Uría, a former member of Spain's Constitutional Court, who spoke to Spanish outlet Cadenaser, "there is no rule regarding who should be entrusted with it. The opinion of constitutional doctrine is that it should simply be entrusted to whoever has the best chances of achieving it."

After a round of consultations that will begin on 17 August, according to Article 99 of the Spanish Constitution Felipe VI  must then nominate a candidate for Prime Minister to Congress. Doing so, and deciding between the two candidates, will likely be controversial and the King will be keen to avoid the politicisation of the monarchy.

''There is no reason why the candidate who has obtained the most votes in the elections should be elected,'' Uría adds. ''If there are several candidates, as may be the case on this occasion, it should be entrusted to the one who has a sufficient majority. The aim of the investiture is not for one person to be promoted, but for Spain to have a Prime Minister.''



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