Governing party loses majority in Spain

Main opposition Socialists also see an erosion of support; the emerging parties Podemos and Citizens make gains

December 21, 2015 10:20 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 04:06 pm IST

The conservative governing party won the most votes on Sunday, but lost its majority in parliamentary elections that underlined the fragmentation of Spanish politics and left the country’s future leadership unclear.

The elections are likely to force Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the Popular Party to start complicated negotiations in order to remain in office, at the helm of either a minority or coalition government. The vote even leaves the door open for a major post-election turnaround like that in neighbouring Portugal, where the premiership changed hands within weeks after national elections in October. Vincenzo Scarpetta, an analyst at Open Europe, a political think tank based in London, said Sunday’s results left Spain in “total uncertainty”, especially since “coalition talks will be difficult, given the animosity between the parties”. He added: “At best, Spain will end up with a weak government. At worst, Spaniards might have to head to the polls again soon. Neither scenario is ideal for a country that is still looking to consolidate a much-awaited economic recovery.”

Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party won 123 of the 350 parliamentary seats, down from 186 seats in the last elections, in 2011, according to the results with nearly all of the votes counted.

The Socialists won 90 seats, compared with 110 four years ago, when they were ousted from office after an economic crisis hit Spain. The emerging parties Podemos and Citizens will enter Parliament for the first time after winning 69 and 40 seats.

Before Sunday’s vote, the leaders of Spain’s main parties had hinted at possible coalition partnerships, without firmly committing to any. Mr. Rajoy celebrated the results on Sunday, but gave a cautious message to his supporters, saying, “I will try to form a government, and I believe Spain needs a stable government.”

Podemos and Citizens wanted the elections to mark the end of Spain’s bipartisan system, and they came close to achieving that goal, despite a Spanish system of proportional representation that did not favour them. Mr. Rajoy’s conservatives and the main opposition Socialists together won 50.7 per cent of the votes, their lowest combined total and down from 73.4 per cent in 2011.

Erosion of support

The elections showed an erosion of support for Mr. Rajoy and his party, but also for the Socialists. Even with their worst election results, they maintained their status as the largest left-leaning party in Parliament thanks to votes in their long-standing regional stronghold of Andalusia in the south.

Podemos was formed early last year as a far-left, anti-austerity party, modelled in part on the success of Syriza, the governing party in Greece. Citizens transformed itself last year from a regional Catalan party, fiercely opposed to the Catalan secessionist movement, into a national party with a liberal economic agenda.

Mr. Rajoy presented himself as the custodian of Spanish unity and continuity, in the face of challenges not only from secessionist politicians in Catalonia but also the two emerging parties.

But the elections were also generational. Mr. Rajoy, 60, who was already a government Minister in the 1990s, trumpeted his experience in contrast to untested challengers.

Among his opponents, Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist leader, is 43; the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, 37; and Albert Rivera, the leader of Citizens, 36.

Mr. Rajoy also warned that any change of tack, after a 2012 banking bailout and years of fiscal belt-tightening under his conservative administration, could once more derail Spain’s economy, which is expected to grow 3 percent this year, outpacing most other European economies. — New York Times News Service

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