April 24, 2024

Conservative Party Narrowly Wins Spanish Election But No Majority for Topple Sánchez

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s conservative Popular Party was set to narrowly win the country’s national election on Sunday, but short of the majority needed to topple Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s coalition.

With 90% of the votes, the Popular Party was on course to win 136 out of 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies, the lower house of the Spanish parliament. Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers Party was on course to take 122 seats, two more than in the outgoing legislature.

Although the Socialists would probably claim the predicted 31 seats of the Sumar Alliance, or Joining Forces, and some smaller parties, there was the possibility that neither side would be able to achieve a majority.

The close of the election would likely lead to weeks of political jockeying. The next prime minister will only be voted on once the lawmakers have entered the new Congress of Deputies. The absolute majority required to form a government is 176 seats.

Pre-election polls had predicted a bigger victory for the Common Party and the possibility that it would form a coalition government with the right-wing Vox party. Such a coalition would have returned a far-right force to the Spanish government for the first time since the country transitioned to democracy in the late 1970s after dictator Francisco Franco’s nearly 40-year rule.

Sánchez was seeking to win a third consecutive national election since coming to power in 2018. The Socialists and a junior member of his coalition took a beating from the conservative party and the far-right Vox party in regional and local elections in May, prompting Sánchez to call an early election on Sunday.

Most polls during the campaign predicted that the national vote would go the same way but that the Popular Party would be required to rely on support from Vox to form a government, with PP candidate Alberto Núñez Feijóo in charge.

A PP-Vox government would mean that another EU member has moved firmly to the right, a trend seen recently in Sweden, Finland and Italy. Countries such as Germany and France are concerned about what such a change would bring to the EU’s immigration and climate policies.

The two main left parties in Spain are pro-EU participation. On the right, the PP is also in favor of the EU. Vox, led by Santiago Abascal, is against EU interference in Spanish affairs.

The election comes and Spain is in possession of the The rotating presidency of the EU. Sánchez hoped to use the six-month term to demonstrate the progress made by his government. If Sánchez were to be defeated in the elections, the PP could be in the process of resurrecting the EU presidency.

Sánchez was one of the first to vote, casting his ballot in a polling station in Madrid.

Referring later to the large number of foreign media covering the election, he said: “This means that what will happen today will be very important, not only for us but also for Europe and I think that should inform us as well.”

“I don’t want to say I’m hopeful or not. I have a good vibration,” Sánchez added.

An embargo-tracked poll published by Spanish public broadcaster RTVE at the close of voting showed an inconclusive result.

Sumar, which brings together 15 small clerical parties, is led by second Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz, the only woman among the four best candidates.

Díaz asked everyone to vote, reminding him that the freedom to vote did not always exist in Spain.

“A lot is at stake,” said Diaz after casting her ballot. “For people of my generation, elections are the most important.”

It’s about “waking up tomorrow with more rights, more democracy and more freedom,” she said.

The election was held at the height of summer, and millions of voters are likely to be on holiday from their usual polling stations. However, requests for postal voting increased significantly before Sunday.

With no party hoping to gather a clear majority, the basic choice is between another coalition on the left and a partnership between the right and the far-right.

Regarding Feijóo who is the favorite in the poll, “It is clear that there are many things going on, what model of country we need, to have a strong and strong government.”

Abascal Vox said he hoped for “a massive mobilization (of voters) that will allow Spain to change direction.”

Alejandro Bleda, 45, did not say who he voted for but indicated that he supported leftist parties. “Because of the polarization in this country, it’s going to vote for 50 years back or for progress,” he said.

The main issues involved “many freedoms, social rights, public health and education,” Bleda said after voting in the Palacio de Valdés public school polling station in central Madrid.

The voters are to elect 350 members for the lower house of Parliament and 208 members for the Senate.

Carmen Acero, 62, who voted for the Popular Party, compared Sánchez to Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and said she voted because “it’s hell to continue with Pedro Sánchez.”

Flashing a Spanish flag on her phone, Acero accused Sánchez of being “obese” for associating with the small regional Basque party Bildu, which includes some former members of the defunct armed separatist group, ETA.

Catching the tail of per month of heat waves, the average was expected to be above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), or 5 to 10 degrees Celsius above normal in many parts of the country. Authorities distributed fans to many of the stations.

“We have the heat, but the right to exercise our vote freely is stronger than the heat,” said Rosa Maria Valladolid-Prieto, 79, in Barcelona.

The Sánchez government has steered Spain through the COVID-19 pandemic and dealt with an economic downturn fueled by inflation that was exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But his reliance on fringe parties could cost his floating minority coalition, which includes separatist forces from Catalonia and the Basque Country, and the passage of his liberal-minded laws.

Associated Press correspondent Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona. AP journalists Aritz Parra, Renata Brito, Iain Sullivan, Maria Gestoso, Alicia Leon and Jose Maria Garcia contributed to this report.

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