By Patricia Correa Vila (Aston University)
Spanish citizens faced yesterday the fourth general election in the past four years yet again the chances of having a new government are still not fully clear. There is no clear majority at either side of the ideological spectrum, and although some parties have already established clear preferences for coalitions they might require additional support from regionalist and nationalist parties. Furthermore, the increased fragmentation and polarization of the Spanish party system does not make this an easy task.
After the incapacity of political parties to reach an agreement and form a government in the aftermath of the 28th of April (28A) elections, new elections were announced for November. The elections have been surrounded by a context of increased polarization around the Catalan issue and wider fragmentation in the two ideological poles. Citizens and parties in Spain have faced an electoral campaign just after the sentencing over the 2017 bid for Catalan independence and its consequent turmoil and protests, and the exhumation of the former dictator Franco´s remains with the far-right party VOX encouraging the trench speech.
The electoral campaign has officially lasted only one week but with the current political turmoil in Spain, the electoral machinery of the parties was already on campaign mode since the minute elections were announced. The electoral campaign has orbited around the electoral aftermath, with PP and PSOE at the core of the potential government, the territorial structure of Spain with the Catalan conflict at the core, and the economic situation. Indeed, during the electoral debate, both Sánchez (PSOE) and Casado (PP) represented the two poles to lead the government with the rest of candidates adding to it, Rivera (Ciudadanos) pushing both PSOE and PP and Iglesias (Podemos) looking for inconsistencies in the socialists and looking for a promise of a future collaboration. For the first time, a far-right party participated in the electoral debate, VOX, which took the opportunity to emphasize its position against the territorial structure of the country.
The results have not been that much different of what the latest polls predicted, socialist are leading as the first party, PP is the second party and VOX increases its representation while Ciudadanos loses significantly. While the socialists have won the elections with 120 seats (three less than before), becoming again the first party, the real winners of the night are PP with 88 seats (22 more seats than in last elections) and VOX with 52 seats (28 seats more). In the absence of a more nuanced analysis with the electoral data, I will introduce now a few takeaway points from this election.
The first takeaway point is linked to the absence of a clear majority able to form a government (it is required to have 176 seats to form a government in the first voting of the investiture procedure). Neither PSOE with Podemos and Más País have enough seats together to form a government (158) nor PP, Ciudadanos, VOX and NA+ have enough seats (152). Both leaders from Podemos and Más País have shown a disposition to collaborate but that might not be sufficient. The left-wing coalition will need the support of regionalist and nationalist parties to succeed (as it happened in the past vote of no confidence) but the division in the pro-independence parties might reduce the chances of a coalition. At the same time, there is no possible alternative of a right-wing government coalition.
The second takeaway point is linked to the level of fragmentation and polarization of the Spanish party system. Three new parties have obtained representation: Más País, CUP and Teruel Existe, and other parties such as BNG have gained access to parliament again, which makes the formation of a government more difficult since more preferences need to be considered during coalition negotiations. Polarization is also key to understand the positions of the parties. VOX has obtained 15% of the votes and 52 seats. This increase in its representation will pressurize PP to distance itself of the chances of a grand coalition or even an abstention to allow the formation of a government. The Catalan pro-independence have also increased their presence in the Spanish parliament by one. While ERC has lost two seats, CUP has entered parliament with two seats and JxCAT has gained 8 seats (one more than in April). The increased presence of these two parties will be relevant to understand a possible refusal of ERC to support a left-wing government.
A third takeaway point is linked to the loss of support within the left-wing parties and the increase in the right-wing pole. First, it is worth mentioning that PSOE´s strategy of improving its representation and have better chances to govern alone has failed. Nonetheless, the party can be, to some extent, satisfied with the results. Although they have lost three seats in Parliament, they are still the first party and the one, if any has a chance, in a better position to form and lead a government. Podemos has lost seven seats in comparison to the 28A elections while the party survives the declining trend does not seem to stop. Más País has accessed parliament but only with two seats, which has not met the party’ expectations. On the other hand, PP has improved significantly its results since April but the distance between VOX and PP is much smaller than they might desire (e.g., VOX has surpassed PP in Murcia, a core PP region in the past). VOX has gained a significant increase in the number of seats and gained lots of media attention during the campaign, it is soon to know if that will continue in the future and if the party has already met its maximum threshold but it is clear this formation will influence PP’s strategy.
Finally, the last takeaway point is about the collapse of Ciudadanos, which has moved from 47 seats to only 10 seats. The different internal crisis and splits related to the ideological shifts of the party and its reticence to form a government with the socialists, together with their incapacity to profit from their main opposition role in Catalonia, and the direct competition with VOX regarding the territorial structure issue have affected the party´s competence to maintain and expand its support base. The party has already called for an extraordinary assembly to decide the party’s future strategy.
The big question now is what will happen next? Last night, party leaders started giving hints about what could be their strategy in the electoral aftermath showing a willingness to support a coalition and demonstrate ‘State responsibility’ but none of the parties is going to do it at free cost and PSOE might refuse to meet some of the demands again. There are still too many scenarios open to having a clear guess of what will be the outcome.
Photo source: https://www.lavanguardia.com/politica/20191110/471468037568/elecciones-generales-2019-espana-escenarios-gobierno.html