Elections in Spain: “Moderate forces are gaining ground in Europe”
Tuesday, 30 April 2019
The parliamentary elections on Sunday resulted in the governing Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez receiving most of the votes but leaves the country in a political void as he will have difficulties in forming a majority government with other parties. The Socialists received about 29 % of the votes, an increase by 6 % compared to the previous elections in 2016, and in total 123 of the 350 seats in the lower house of the Spanish parliament (Congress of Deputies). Voter turnout was high and reached 76 %.
Sánchez’ minority government, supported by other parties, came into power in June 2018 after a vote of no confidence in Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP).
PP lost about half of its seats and received only 17 % of the votes (66 seats), followed by the centre-right Citizens Party (57 seats), the united far-left Unidas Polemos (42 seats), the far-right VOX (24 seats), Catalonian parties (together 22 seats) and Basque parties (10 seats).
Asked to comment on the election results, the chief spokesperson of the European Commission said at a press briefing in Brussels yesterday (29 April) that the Commission is confident that Sánchez will be able to form a stable government.
He added that Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had called Sánchez to congratulate him on his “clear victory”. As the “vast majority” of Spanish voters had voted for pro-European parties he did not see any danger in the support for VOX that for the first time entered the parliament.
According to the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR), the election results in Spain demonstrated that moderate forces in Europe are gaining ground. “Spain’s results should serve as a cautionary tale to conservative moderates who have been courting the extreme right.”
Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the Madrid office of the ECFR, commented, “Compared to the rest of Europe, Spain now appears a bastion of social democracy and a defender of pro-European and progressive politics.”
He notes that in a Europe dominated by the centre-right, often in coalition with the far right, Spain’s conservatives have fallen from the heights of an absolute majority of 186 seats in 2011. ECFR believes that austerity had a role, “but principally the legacy of corruption and the PP’s sharp rightward turn exacted a heavy toll.”
Although the far-right party VOX leapt from 0.2 % of the votes in 2016 to 10.3 % on Sunday, it is nowhere near to what far-right parties gained in other countries, such Austria, Finland, France, Italy and Sweden, says Torreblanca.
VOX is smaller and less influential, according to Torreblanca, who adds that anti-immigration rhetoric did not work in the Spanish elections. “It was not picked up by any establishment party and when it surfaced was rejected by the public and the media.”
Whether this will change in the forthcoming elections to the European Parliament remains to be seen. There is a tendency for smaller radical parties to gain more votes in the European elections as voters punish the bigger parties in their national governments.