Is Spain headed for an electoral repetition after results without majorities?

Is Spain headed for an electoral repetition after results without majorities?

The general elections of this July 23 opened a panorama of post-electoral uncertainty due to the inability of the parties of the left and the right to reach the 176 seats in Parliament necessary to form a Government. The conservative Popular Party won the elections with 136 seats, but will not be able to form a government with the far-right Vox. While the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, would need an agreement with all the pro-independence parties to have the option of revalidating his position.

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The instant photo that Spain reflected on July 23 is that of a diametrically divided country. The conservative Popular Party (PP) of Alberto Núñez Feijóo was the winner of the elections with more than eight million votes and 136 seats, however, it will be almost impossible to form a government because an alliance with the far-right Vox would not give enough 176 seats to invest the popular candidate. A scenario that is not much better for the left and the current Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez either, since, although he managed to withstand the conservative onslaught, they will have to deal with various small regional political forces -including Catalan and Basque nationalists-. Something that seems difficult.

This electoral day leaves several readings. The first is that the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, has been effective in stopping the conservative advance, although it is surely also insufficient for the current President of the Government in his goal of being re-elected. And the second, that the victory of the conservative Popular Party and the far-right Vox, favorites in most polls, has not occurred and this makes a possible change of government led by Feijóo extremely difficult.

Pedro Sánchez, survivor of a new electoral day

The resistance capacity of the current Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, has been demonstrated once again. The current president called these elections at a time of deep crisis, after reaping a severe electoral defeat in the regional elections on May 28. His objective was to stop what almost all the polls predicted: an absolute majority of the right and the extreme right. And the truth is that he has achieved it.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) that he leads has managed to increase the number of votes and seats compared to 2019, reaching 122. However, this slight increase has not helped him to win the general elections, since his party was in second position after the PP and opens up great post-electoral uncertainty because, although the brake on the conservative bloc has materialized, it is very difficult for him to reissue a government.

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The PSOE’s main ally, the leftist Sumar bloc, has posted a total of 31 seats nationwide. So the sum of both gives a total of 153 seats, far from the 176 necessary. From here is where the accounts begin: if Sánchez and the left want to form a government, they will imperatively need the votes of the Catalan and Basque nationalist and pro-independence parties.

Pedro Sánchez and his current coalition government have already had the support of some of these formations during this legislature, however, the sum may not reach this time. Feasible pacts between PSOE and Sumar could come to pass with Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, a progressive Catalan independence party that has won seven seats; Bildu, a separatist formation of the Basque left that obtained six seats; PNV, another center-right Basque party that won five seats; and BNG, a Galician nationalist left-wing political group. In total they would add 172 seats and would remain four short of the absolute majority required.

These pacts would not be easy, since these formations require a series of regional concessions that are difficult for the PSOE to articulate and accept. In addition, the other key formation in these elections is Junts per Catalunya, a conservative independence party from Catalonia that has barely supported Sánchez during this legislature.

This formation, led by the former president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, is characterized by a tougher position regarding the Catalan independence movement, demanding a referendum on the issue. The seven seats that Junts has obtained are essential for Sánchez to reach the Government, either thanks to an abstention or a positive vote. However, what has been expressed by the pro-independence formation seems to be heading more towards a possible no that would lead to the blockade and an electoral repetition.

The PP is awarded an insufficient victory that leaves governability in the air

The overwhelming result of the Popular Party of Alberto Núñez Feijóo will not help the conservative leader to form a government either. And it is that the electoral panorama of the PP is very adverse despite its victory. The only political formations that would be willing to add to invest Feijóo are the far-right Vox and the regionalist Unión del Pueblo Navarro, however, they barely reach 170 seats together.

For this reason, despite the victory hymn of the current opposition leader, he will not be able to be Prime Minister on this occasion, unless a grand pact is reached with Sánchez’s PSOE, something unthinkable in the current Spanish political context.

The candidate of the Popular Party celebrates before his militancy the victory in the general elections of 2023. In Madrid, Spain, on July 23, 2023.
The candidate of the Popular Party celebrates before his militancy the victory in the general elections of 2023. In Madrid, Spain, on July 23, 2023. © Juan Medina / Reuters

The overall result of the right-wing bloc is bad, at least compared to the projections that were given during the weeks before the elections in most polls. These polls predicted a greater number of seats for Feijóo’s party and a strong enough performance to govern alone with the far-right Vox party, led by Santiago Abascal.

Behind this bittersweet result could be the last negative week in the campaign that Núñez Feijóo has starred in, who began to be singled out for some of the lies he uttered in interviews with the media and in electoral debates. Although he also responds to an unexpected mobilization of the left in the conservative bloc due to the effect of fear against the Abascal formation. A feeling that has even made the PSOE win comfortably in regions like Catalonia, something that had not happened for years, to the detriment of the independence vote in that region.

In this way, Spain will wake up this July 24 with the calculator of the possible pacts in its head. Although the difficulty of these makes the shadow of a electoral repetition fly over the Spanish electorate again. The political system in this country is complex and, by depending on parliamentary majorities to invest a Prime Minister, makes agreements increasingly difficult to materialize in a context of political fracture.

The Spaniards have already seen themselves forced into two electoral repetitions in the last eight years that generated great boredom among voters. The first of these was in June 2016, after the results of December 2015 brought a complex picture similar to the current one, without large majorities that add up. The second occurred in November 2019, just seven months after Pedro Sánchez achieved his first victory at the polls in April 2019. On that occasion, the reason for the repetition was the inability of the PSOE and the leftist formation United We Can to reach a government agreement. Something that could finally happen in January 2020, starting the current legislature. Now, the correlation of forces once again leaves the progress of the legislature either in the hands of a socialist support, or in the hands of the conservative Catalan independence movement.

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