Spain’s three post-election scenarios 

Politics - August 12, 2023

Bipartisanship and clarity have long abandoned Spanish politics. Since 2011, the winners of general elections have failed to reach the required 176 congressional seats to form a government. The early elections held on Sunday 23rd July 2023, are yet another example of elections with no clear winner. Technically, the centre right-wing Popular Party (PP, EEP), is the winner of this anticipated round of elections, as they’ve won the highest number of congressional seats, 136 in total. However, even with the support of the conservative party Vox’s (ECR) 33 congressional seats, the PP cannot reach the necessary 176 congressional seats needed to form a government.

So, what then? The left seems to rally behind incumbent prime minister Pedro Sánchez, but summing the required number of seats will require the support of regionalist and separatist parties, with the kingmaker appearing to be the infamous party created by Catalan separatist fugitive, Carles Puidgemont. There is even a chance that Spanish citizens might be called to the polls again later this year. Only time will tell the political future of Spain, but whilst we wait, it is useful to analyse the possible scenarios for the next months.


Unlikely: Feijoó and the Popular Party reach the absolute majority

The growth of PP in Congress, with 47 more seats, as well as gaining an absolute majority in the Senate, point at victory for the right. However, winning the elections will mean little if PP’s leader Alberto Nuñez Feijoó doesn’t manage to gather enough seats. Far from what the polls predicted, a right-wing bloc formed by PP and Vox would only sum 169 seats, seven short of the required majority.

Faced with this reality, there are two options left for the PP candidate. First, Feijoó, having failed to secure an absolute majority in the first vote in Congress, could ask for the abstention of the PSOE during the second vote. This second round only requires a simple majority to be conferred with the ability to govern. However, this is unlikely, as not only has the leadership of Partido Socialista Obrero (PSOE, S&D) expressed its unwillingness to do so, but it would also require consultation with the party’s militancy and a favourable vote.

The second option for Feijoó is to secure support from smaller parties to reach the required 176 congressional seats. To do so, he would need to convince Nationalist Basque Party (PNV, Renew Europe) with its 5 seats, Coalición Canaria (CC) and Unión Pueblo Navarro (UPN) with one seat each. If successful, and only with the support of Vox’s 33 seats, PP would be able to group the number of seats required to form a government. Nevertheless, PNV has already warned that it would not support a government where Vox participates. This is unlikely to change given the proximity to Basque autonomous elections, where PNV is looking to gain back the lost ground to EH Bildu. Moreover, CC has expressed its reluctance to form a government with Vox.

Likely: Pedro Sánchez’s “Frankenstein” coalition

As paradoxical as it may seem, despite not being the most-voted party, the left-wing PSOE has arguably better odds at securing the government for the next four years. As with the previous legislature, this will require a complicated and intricate coalition that brings together divergent, and often contradicting interests. First, it will require the support of the newly formed progressive Sumar party, which groups up to 14 different extreme left-wing parties, including Podemos (GUE/NGL). The complicity demonstrated by candidates during electoral debates and assurances during rallies, suggests that this is a highly probable case. More importantly, this would only amount to 153 seats, requiring the seat of separatist and regionalist parties.

For now, the Galician Bloque Nacionalista Gallego (BNG) and basque EH Bildu have already announced that they will not block a government led by Sanchéz. Still 16 seats short of the majority, Sánchez would need to call on its former coalition member, the separatist party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC, Greens). However, as they have warned, this support can only be secured if concessions in the Catalonian issue are granted. This would put the leftist bloc with 172 seats, which could allow them to form a government after a successful second vote if Junts per Cataluña with 7 seats, abstains, making it the kingmaker of these elections. The separatist party formerly led by fugitive Carles Puidgedemont, has made clear that “we will not make Pedro Sánchez president in exchange for nothing…our priority is Catalonia, not the governability of the Spanish state”. However, and based on previous legislatures, Pedro Sánchez has shown himself to be ruthlessly pragmatic and unfaced by the possibility of acquiescing to Catalonian separatism.

Most likely: Repetition of elections

Triumph of PSOE in Catalonia and the decline of separatist parties may suggest that parties like ERC, who work with the government, risk losing support – the party has lost over half of its seats – if they enter a coalition with PSOE. This could convince them of the futility of accepting concessions short of a referendum, making the creation of the left-wing coalition an impossibility.

Additionally, votes from Spanish citizens living abroad gave an additional seat for PP which brings the right-wing and left-wing blocs to a draw, with each holding 172 seats. Now Puigdemont’s party will need to vote in favour of the left-wing bloc to succeed, which may be much more difficult than it seems.

The failure to form a government by both blocs will lead to the inevitable conclusion of the need to repeat the elections. If elections are repeated, this may bring a strengthening of PP, as the increase of seats of PP during the 2016 elections demonstrated, or in the least, maintain the current situation, as PSOE’s seats after the 2019 elections demonstrate. In any case, is far too early to predict any of these scenarios.

Next steps

What we know, is that for now, nothing is set in stone. As it stands, the most likely scenario is that neither bloc will manage to secure the necessary majority to govern Spain for the next four years. More worryingly, if they do, it could come at the cost of granting key concessions to separatists and another four years with a coalition made of far left-wing parties, including a party made of former terrorist group ETA members. Ironically, the most likely – and arguably preferable – outcome, would be to return to the ballot boxes.