Home Europe In Spain Election, Can the Centre Hold?

In Spain Election, Can the Centre Hold?

Update (28.4, 11PM CET): With voter turnout at 75% and 2/3 of the votes counted, PSOE are projected to win 129 seats, PP 65 seats, Ciudadanos 54 seats and Podemos 32 seats. Vox are on track to win 24 seats in parliament, about half of the original projection, indicating it is underperforming both its own expectations and the performance of similar parties throughout Europe. If these results hold, it will mark the worst performance for PP in its history, whose seats have been halved. The election is a big win for Prime Minister Pablo Sánchez’s PSOE, but depending on the final count he may be compelled to form a coalition including much smaller regional and fringe parties in parliament, including potentially a number of Catalan ones.

Stockholm (Ekonamik) – The first general election in Spain since the Catalan separatist crisis of 2017 takes place Sunday (April 28) following the failure of Pedro Sánchez’s minority socialist government to pass its proposed budget for 2019 earlier in the year. The highly polarising campaign has been dominated by issues of national identity, the future of Catalonia, and gender equality, following a spate of mass demonstrations against gender-based violence against women.

Final polls suggested Mr Sánchez’s PSOE party leads the vote at around 30%, with the conservative people’s party (PP) in second place at 20%, the Catalan pro-national unity party Ciudadanos (Citizens), a centre-right party known for its opposition to Catalan independence, and the left-of-centre Podemos each at around 15%. A far-right Eurosceptic movement, Vox, surged to 12% in the final weeks of the election. Taken together, this polling suggests there will be no overall majority, meaning a likely period of coalition building that could spell further uncertainty.

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The Spanish economy created 596,900 jobs over the past year under Mr Sánchez, representing a 3,14% increase, according to data from the National Statistics Institute. The figures confirm the “positive evolution of the Spanish labour market in the past few quarters,” according to Economy Minister Nadia Calviño. Spain’s unemployment rate nevertheless rose to 14.7% in Q1 2019, despite hitting a 10 year low in Q4 2018. And with simultaneous increasing living costs (which led PSOE and Podemos to agree to an increase in the minimum wage in 2018), discussion of the economy has to some measure become dressed up in questions of national unity and social identity during this campaign.

Source: European Central Bank

Prime Minister Sánchez has campaigned on political and economic stability, standing against the rise of what he terms a far right coalition and building a broad parliamentary majority to support a stable government. Mr Sánchez’s own government lasted only eight months following a corruption scandal that brought down the PP. He has said he would be open to a ruling coalition wth Podemos, headed by Pablo Iglesias. PP’s Pablo Casados campaigned to the right using rhetoric increasingly reminiscent of Vox leader Santiago Abascal, while Ciudadanos and its leader Alberto Rivera also campaigned on ousting Mr Sánchez. Pre-election speculation centred on the possibility of a coalition between the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox, which is set to clear the parliamentary threshold. Mr Abascal has threatened to end self-rule for regions like Catalonia, and its popularity is being driven by nation-wide anger at the Catalan independence referendum as its leaders stand trial on charges of rebellion and sedition.

But another option could present itself, according to reports in El Pais, the country’s largest newspaper: a potential centrist coalition between PSOE and Ciudadanos, with it its anti-corruption platform and opposition to Catalan independence – a strong card to play from a Catalan party among Spaniards eager to restore national unity (Ciudadanos is seen as a far right party within Catalonia itself, however). Ciudadanos is now in a position to challenge the Popular Party as Spain’s leading conservative party, and may stand more to gain from engaging in a centrist coalition with PSOE than playing second fiddle to PP as a junior coalition partner.

Together with Compromís, a regional coalition of progressive parties supporting the PSOE, a coalition between PSOE and Ciudadanos could procure as many as 180 seats of 350 in the Congress of Deputies, offering a chance for political stability (208 of 266 seats in the Senate are also up for election).

Exit polls will give an indication of the apportionment of votes, but final results aren’t expected until Monday morning. Exit polls have been incorrect in recent elections.

To be updated.

Image: Madrid, Spain, Parliament (Wikimedia Commons)

Glenn W. Leaper, PhD
Glenn W. Leaper, Politics Editor, is a political theorist, analyst, editor and writer. He completed his Ph.D. in Political Philosophy and Critical Theory from Royal Holloway, University of London in 2015. His research focuses on ideology, unaccountable structures of power and surveillance capitalism. He is also a communications consultant, speechwriter, interpreter and journalist. Glenn has an international background spanning the UK, France, Austria, Spain, Belgium and his native Denmark. He holds an MA in Literature and a BA in International Relations.

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