By José Rama Caamaño and Andrés Santana Leitner (Autonomous University of Madrid)

2015 and 2016 general elections
The 2015 and 2016 Spanish general elections turned the Spanish party system upside down. The first one was considered as an enormous earthquake that hit many of the well-established attributes of the national party system, such as the number of relevant political parties in the Congreso de los Diputados – the Low Chamber –, the levels of electoral volatility, the electoral competition, the levels of electoral polarization and, more importantly, the patterns of Government formation.

Thus, after the failed elections of 2015 (6 months without Government), in the 2016 elections, the party in Government since 2011, the conservative People’s Party (PP), obtained the external support from a new centre-right party (at least at the national level), Citizens (Cs), for the 2016 – 2020 legislature. The notorious fragmentation of the share of votes already suggested that the legislature would be short-lived and with major difficulties to approve the Government’s proposals.

And this intuition was right: the conservative Government was brought down two years later by a censure motion headed by the main opposition party, the socialist PSOE, with the major support of a new left-wing challenger party, Podemos, and backed by all the other political formations (with the exception of Citizens, the Deputy of the regional Canary party and the Deputy of Foro Asturias).

As a consequence of the triumph of the censure motion censure motion (180 votes in favour versus 169 votes against), a new Prime Minister, PSOE’s leader Pedro Sánchez, assumed power, and a reshape of the internal structure of the PP was to take place. The former Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, left the leadership of the party and, after a primary election, a new party leader, Pablo Casado, emerged as the new PP candidate to the next general elections.

9 months of PSOE’s Government
Nine months after seizing Government, and with more than 30 laws approved by legislative decree (given the frontal opposition of the rest of the parties), Sánchez realized that the PSOE’s 85 MPs (out of 350) were not enough to govern effectively. The impossibility of having his next year’s General Budget approved (the secessionist Catalan parties who supported Sánchez’ censure motion refused to back the Budgets in the absence of an agreement on an independence referendum for Independence in Catalonia) was the most vivid example of the low margin of manoeuvre of the new governing party.

The result of this convulse period was a new election in April 2019, just a month before the May 26th regional and European elections. Everything indicated that it would represent a new shock to the Spanish party system, since a new political party at the national level, Vox, emerged in the polls as a new opponent on the right side. In the previous regional elections held in Andalusia in December 2018 Vox obtained 11 percent of the popular vote and 12 seats out of 109. Thanks to this support, they conditioned the Government formation in Andalucía (a coalition of PP and Cs). Following these results, the
polls during the 2019 electoral campaign consistently suggested that Vox would achieve at least 30 seats in the national Parliament, and could even reach the 40 mark. See Table 1.

Electoral fragmentation and the crisis of the PP
Vox, a split of PP in 2013, emerged in 2019 largely as a consequence of the Catalan crisis. This party is mainly Spanish nationalist and advocates political centralization. In the 2019 elections, it has obtained 24 seats (up from 0 in 2016), an outcome tightly connected with the internal crisis of PP. The conservative party has lost a total of 72 seats, from 137 seats to 67.A significant part of the seats lost by the PP (more than 50 per cent of the seats that they achieved in 2016) has benefited Cs, which soared from 32 to 57. Naturally, these have consequences in terms of electoral fragmentation. Table 1 shows the levels of electoral and parliamentary fragmentation level.

Source: Own elaboration

Table 2 further illustrates this point in terms of the percentage of votes concentration for the different parties, showing that the vote and seat share of the two main parties, the PSOE and (still) the PP has dropped sharply in 2019. At the same time, the medium-sized national parties (Cs, Podemos and Vox) have gained relevance thanks to the fantastic results of CS and the emergence of Vox. Finally, and regarding the regional parties, it is clear that the results of ERC (15 seats) are behind the increment in the percentage of votes and seats for Regionalist parties.

Source: Own elaboration

All in all, results show that these elections have, at least, two big winners (PSOE and Citizens), another two big losers (PP and UP) and one surprise (Vox). In terms of Government formation, the difficulties are as notable than in 2015 and 2016. Just one coalition Government is plausible (but very difficult): PSOE + Cs. The story (long or short) of this new legislature start Monday morning, but the future is completely uncertain.

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