April 24, 2024

Spanish Elections: Results Show No Party With Enough Votes to Rule

Spain was plunged into political uncertainty on Sunday after national elections left no party without enough support to form a government, likely leading to weeks of horse-trading or a new vote later this year.

Returns showed that most of the votes were split between the centre-right and the centre-left. But neither Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s ruling Socialist Party nor its conservative opponent won enough votes to rule alone in the 350-seat Parliament.

Although the conservatives came out ahead, the allies they could partner with to form a government in the hard-right Vox party saw their support, as the Spaniards rejected extremist parties.

The result was an inconclusive election and political strife that the Spanish have experienced since their two-party system broke up almost a decade ago. It looked set to leave Spain in political limbo at a key time when it holds the rotating presidency of the European Council and faces the threat of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The returns gave the conservative Popular Party an advantage in seats over Mr Sánchez’s Socialists. Although it was slim, that number was expected to increase.

They hoped to win a clear majority and rule without Vox, which many of the party’s own officials consider anachronistic, an anomaly with Spain’s moderate and dangerous values.

As the votes came in, the Popular Party tried to put on a positive face, saying it had come first. This, said the secretary general of the party Concepción Gamarra, was “the only thing we know.”

But that was not enough.

Political turmoil is not new to Spain. In 2016, the country spent 10 months in political uncertainty as it careened from election to election. Mr Sánchez then ousted the conservative prime minister and gained power in a parliamentary maneuver in 2018. Other elections followed until Mr Sánchez eventually assembled a minority government with the far left and support in Parliament from small independence parties.

This time, Mr. Sánchez, a political survivor of the first order, again defied expectations, increasing his party’s seats in Parliament and gaining enough support from his left-wing allies so far to block the formation of a conservative government.

In the weeks leading up to the election, Mr Sánchez and his left-wing allies raised concerns about his conservative colleagues’ willingness to partner with Vox, which could become the first hard-right party to enter government since the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco nearly 50 years ago.

The prospect of Vox sharing power in government unnerved many Spaniards and sent ripples through the European Union and its remaining liberal strongholds, surprising many who considered Spain inoculated against political extremism since the end of Franco’s regime in the 1970s.

The liberals insisted on the ascension of Vox which would be a troublesome waste for Spain and yet another sign of the rise of the right in Europe. Instead, Vox sank, and may have given the Common Party a chance to rule with him.

Mr Sánchez, who has led Spain for five years, will remain the head of a caretaker government as the composition of the new government is worked out, or the timing of the new elections.

Analysts noted that the Spanish electorate had become tired of the extremes of the right and the left and had tried to return to the center. A new election, they said, would continue that trend, and Vox’s influence would likely be further marginalized. The Popular Party hopes it will take back its votes and grow large enough to rule on its own.

Mr. Sánchez was a progressive champion of the European Union, and he presided over an economic turnaround, but he managed to alienate many voters by going back on promises and building alliances with political parties involved in Catalan separatism as well as former Basque terrorists who once sought to split from Spain.

“I had trouble deciding until the last minute,” said Arnold Merino, 43, who voted for the conservative Popular Party. “People didn’t trust him.”

Mr. Sánchez called the elections early — they were scheduled for the end of the year — after brutality in local and regional elections in May.

In the final days of the race, the Socialists and the shadow group on the far left, Sumar, were optimistic about the possibility of turning things around as opinion polls showed them behind. Billboards across Spain showed Mr Sánchez looking young and suave under a sign for “Forward” next to black-and-white pictures of the conservative leaders reading, “Back.

The Popular Party ran less on policy proposals than against Mr. Sánchez. Both conservatives and their hard-right allies ran a campaign sharply critical of Mr. Sánchez, or a style of governance they called “Sanchismo,” saying he could not be trusted for breaking his word to voters, making alliances with the far left and cutting electoral moves that put his own political survival ahead of the national interest.

However, in recent years Spain has seemed to be a bright spot for liberals. Mr Sánchez kept inflation low, eased separatist tensions in Catalonia and increased the rate of economic growth, pensions and the minimum wage.

But the alliance between Mr Sánchez and deeply polarizing separatists and far-left forces has fueled resentment among many voters. The entire campaign, which included Mr. Sánchez and his far-left ally warning against the extremism of Vox, put him in the bad company of allies of the main parties.

And yet, for all the talk about extremism, the results showed that Spanish voters, many of them haunted by the dictatorship and years of terrorism fueled by territorial disputes related to them, had turned to the center.

The Vox party, widely seen as a clear descendant of the Franco dictatorship, looked on track to lose more than 20 seats. He ran against abortion and LGBTQ rights and European Union intervention in Spanish affairs, and is staunchly anti-immigrant.

“I think people want to go back to bipartnership, because it provides stability,” Mr Merino said. “With the Common Party, you know what you’re getting.”

The leader of Vox, Santiago Abascal, split from the Popular Party amid a slush-fund scandal in 2013. Vox started with tricks like Gibraltar, the southern part of the country that has been controlled by Britain since 1713, with the Spanish flag.

He filmed alternative realities in which Muslims imposed Shariah law in the south of Spain and turned the Cordoba Cathedral back in a mosque. In another video, scored to the sound of Lord of the Rings, a cultural touchstone for Europe’s new hard right, Mr. Abascal leads men on horseback to reconquer Europe.

“It’s very allegorical. But it’s also beautiful,” said Aurora Rodil, the Vox deputy mayor of the southern town of Elche who was already in charge with the mayor of the Popular Party. “There is so much to redeem in Spain.”

But Sunday’s vote showed they had been beaten back.

“Spain is really fair,” said Ramon Campoy, 35, as he took a break from work Friday in Barcelona, ​​​​​​​​​​standing under an LGBTQ flag in a square with an equestrian statue of Ramon Berenguer III, the 11th-century ruler of Catalonia.

Mr Campoy added, “I think the country is in the middle of nowhere.”

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