Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE in Spanish) won a commanding victory in the general election held last Sunday in Spain. Despite being far from wining an absolute majority of seats, something that rarely happens due to the relatively proportional voting system and the high number of major parties (five in this election), Sánchez will find it quite easy to get his current position reconfirmed, due to the good results of most of his parliamentary allies. With a moderately high turnout (75.8%) and a record number of ballots (more than 26 million), the election also saw the far-right Vox enter the chamber for the first time, though with fewer seats than what the polls had foreseen.
PSOE won 123 seats and 28.7% of the vote, an increase from the 85 seats and 22.6% they had the last time the country went to the polls in 2016. They also were able to be victorious in 40 of the 51 provinces of Spain, topping the poll in areas where a left-wing party had not won since the 80s. The party got into government in May 2018 after Sánchez successfully toppled the right-wing People’s Party (PP) Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy via a motion of censure against the government, after a law court found PP as an organisation to be guilty of several corruption charges. Sánchez can now choose between renewing the supply and confidence agreement he had with the left-wing Together We Can (UP) and the Basque and Catalan nationalists or seeking the support of the resurgent Citizens (Cs), a liberal party that was the other winner of the night.
PP, led by the young and fiery Pablo Casado, suffered its heaviest defeat in history. The party managed to get 66 MPs, less than half of that of of the last election, went below 20% of the vote (16.7%) for the first time since the early 80s, and only barely won in their rural strongholds of Lugo, Ourense, Zamora and Salamanca. The party’s policies and rhetoric had moved well to the right to face off the challenge of the upcoming Vox, the campaign being marked by Casado’s incendiary branding of the PM as a ‘traitor’ that had sold the country to Catalan nationalists. While he has announced that he will not resign before the next poll day (local and European elections will be held in less than a month), Casado’s position as leader of the opposition was severely threatened by Cs’ Albert Rivera, who finished less than a percentage point behind him.
Indeed, Rivera saw his party becoming the third largest in the country, gaining a further 25 seats to reach a grand total of 57. His strategy of adopting PP’s abandoned centre-right ideological position proved to be quite popular, though it could arguably be said that his anti-Catalan and Basque nationalist zeal was even stronger than that of PP. Rivera now intends to become the de facto leader of the opposition as PP’s crisis worsens.
While not as dramatic as PP’s, Pablo Iglesias’s UP also had a bad night at the polls. They lost 29 seats to 42, got 14.3% of the vote and fell from their past position as the third largest party to the one below that. The party lost a considerable amount of its voters to Sánchez, who successfully adopted the strategy of presenting itself as the only party that could successfully stop the far right from getting into power. UP was also damaged by the continuous internal war between its factions that saw several of their most high-profile MPs out of the leader’s team. However, the fall in vote percentage and seats was less that what the polls predicted, and they will probably still have considerable influence over Sánchez’s government, as its support is needed to achieve a majority of votes in parliament.
Vox entered the chamber for the first time with 24 seats and 10.3% of the vote. The far right party that was created by former PP members that split from the main organisation used the campaign to demonise ethnic and sexual minorities and adopted a strong anti-feminist, anti-Basque, anti-Catalan discourse, influenced by the Catholic Church and by the ideology of the fascist Franco regime that ruled the country with an iron grip for 40 years. Its results are less impressive that what the opinion polls were showing the days before the election, which are probably a consequence of the several scandals they were embroiled with, with several members in exit positions in the party lists revealed as Holocaust deniers and wife beaters. In fact, the biggest effect that Vox had was increasing the turnout of the left-wing supporting electorates, who flocked to the polls to stop the extremist party from giving PP and Cs the numbers to form a government coalition.
Basque and Catalan nationalists also achieved a great result, winning the election in the Basque Country and Catalonia. However, the more moderate parties within the current (PNV and ERC, respectively) managed to come above their more radical counterparts (EH Bildu and JxCat, the party of former Catalan PM Puigdemont, who is currently in Belgium outside the reach of the Spanish courts after the failed independence referendum in 2017). ERC, which also participated in the referendum and saw its leadership jailed, has shown willingness to moderate its positions and reach an agreement with Sánchez for parliamentary support in return for further autonomy for Catalonia. Its former leader Oriol Junqueras, (who is currently detained and under trial for the independence declaration) was elected to parliament, through it is not clear if the courts will grant him permission to take his seat.