Spain’s political system plunges in widening cracks
The results of yesterday's election is clear proof that no party has a clear path forward.
The socialist Pedro Sanchez's chances of retaining his position as Spain's Prime Minister appeared bleak two months prior. Sanchez decided to schedule a general election on July 23 after his party suffered crushing defeats to the Popular Party (PP) in local and regional elections in May.
But to almost everyone's astonishment, the Right did worse than Spain's Left-wing parties last night. Even with the backing of the extreme Right-wing party Vox, Alberto Nez Feijoo's PP lacks the votes necessary to build an absolute majority, despite winning 33% of the vote in yesterday's election. The 31.7% that Sanchez got may be enough to make him the only party leader capable of becoming Spain’s next PM.
However, Feijoo and Sanchez's relative success demonstrates that Spain's established parties continue to have sway. Although Sanchez's PSOE and Feijoo's PP together received close to 16 million votes, their electoral victories conceal a number of deeper-seated issues with the Spanish electoral system, including political polarization and electoral fragmentation.
Vox and the left-wing party Sumar, formerly Podemos, underperformed in these elections, but they have solidified their position as supporting actors to the two more significant political parties in Spain. In fact, these two, rather than the Socialists or PP, were responsible for shaping the election's narrative by reviving the language of the Spanish Civil War, portraying a conflict between the return of Franco and the Red Terror, and taking positions on cultural conflicts involving migration, feminism, and ecologism.
These are concerns that populist parties have exploited throughout Europe, but Spain stands out because the country is still recovering from secessionist movements in Catalonia and, to a lesser extent, the Basque area. Vox's stridently anti-Catalan and anti-Basque position has consequently grown to be a significant barrier to the Right-wing alliance garnering enough support in the legislature. Without Vox, conservative votes would have probably gone straight to the PP, which would have made it easier for Feijoo to negotiate with other moderate peripheral nationalist forces.
Sanchez has improved his ability to function in this unsteady world. He understands that Left-wing and Center-Right peripheral nationalists have no choice but to support him by making the assertion that "fascism is coming" all the time. Nevertheless, Sanchez's political future is in the hands of Carles Puigdemont's Junts party because the Catalans were successful in convincing people to not cast ballots in this election. Spain would likely need to have new elections next autumn if Puigdemont fails to mobilize support in favor of Sanchez to form a coalition government.
The outcome from yesterday demonstrates how fragile and highly fragmented Spain's political system continues to be. Even though the threat of a populist uprising was exaggerated, the problems that already exist are not only persisting but also getting worse.