The failed “Upside-down” Operation in Spain

Politics - August 23, 2023

The Partido Popular (PP) Fails to Secure Majority, even with Vox’s Support.

General elections were held in Spain following the resignation of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez after the administrative elections, which saw a substantial victory for the center-right, led by the resurgent Partido Popular.

However, the high expectations generated by those elections did not translate into concrete results during the general elections, where the PP-Vox alliance appeared to be strongly poised to form a coalition government. In the final weeks of the electoral campaign, controversies emerged between the two allies, particularly between the leaders Alberto Núñez Feijóo (PP) and Santiago Abascal (Vox), each striving to retain their own electorate.

The Partido Popular obtained 33.05% of the vote (136 seats), closely followed by Pedro Sánchez’s socialist PSOE, which secured 31.70% (122 seats). Vox ranked third with 12.39% (33 seats), followed by the electoral coalition Sumar, comprising left-wing forces such as Podemos and Izquierda Unida, which stood at 12.31% (31 seats). The remaining seats were distributed among regionalist or localist parties: ERC (Catalan left) with 7 seats, the group of Catalan separatist Puigdemont with 7 seats, 6 seats for the Basque left, and the Basque Nationalist Party with 5 seats. One seat each was secured by the Galician BNG, the Canarian party, and a local list from Navarra.

With a majority set at 176 seats, it is evident that no national coalition is feasible for forming a government. PP and Vox together reach only 169 seats, while the PSOE, with Sumar, reaches 153. This necessitates alliances with regionalist parties, making the chessboard leading to a stable and lasting government extremely complicated.

From the right-wing bloc, alliances with ERC, EH Bildu (Basque left), and BNG are unthinkable. Although the possible inclusion of the Basque Nationalist Party could approach the threshold for government formation, Vox has repeatedly demanded that this party be outlawed for threatening the unity of the State. A coalition of PP-Vox-PNV-CC (Canaries)-UPN (Navarra) would reach 176 seats, a majority, but it would be held together by a very challenging PNV-Vox agreement, with Feijóo constantly risking displeasing one or the other ally.

On the left, the situation is no simpler: ERC, EH Bildu, and BNG could participate in a new government led by Sánchez, which might not be frowned upon even by the PNV (which has already provided external support to the government in recent years). This would lead the PSOE-Sumar-ERC-EH Bildu-BNG-PNV coalition to reach 172 seats. However, this would still be insufficient for forming a government.

Thus, the key element for achieving a government surprisingly lies with Carles Puigdemont’s group, Junts per Catalunya. Junts has been in opposition to Sánchez in recent years, with Puigdemont at the center of an international case as Spain seeks his arrest, while Europe hesitates since he was elected to the European Parliament, enjoying the political rights that come with this election.

Their 7 seats would enable the formation of a government, either led by Feijóo or by Sánchez. However, neither wants to form a coalition with them, as including separatists in a government coalition would inevitably lead to further demands, particularly from the Basques.

In this context, Junts’ abstention could be decisive for the birth of a minority government. If Feijóo manages to unite Vox and the Basque Nationalist Party, there would be no need to find other allies. However, Junts’ abstention would protect Feijóo in case of a “split” led by the Basques. In the case of a Große Koalition (grand coalition) between PSOE-Sumar-ERC-EH Bildu-PNV-BNG, Junts’ abstention would result in 172 votes for Sánchez and 171 for Feijóo, giving rise to a third Sánchez government, this time as a minority government.

Of course, the possibility of returning to the polls cannot be excluded, and it may be the most likely scenario. However, in that case, the parties of the alternative right and left (Vox and Sumar) are likely to be weakened, while regional parties will likely gain strength. Spain undoubtedly needs to reach a strong and stable government soon to revive projects for Mediterranean Europe.