THE CAMPAIGNS FINISHED on Friday 26th April, giving Spain its traditional day of reflection, 24 hours before the election. The feeling from the left was that a vote for PSOE, the Socialist Party, was the way to keep the far right out. In a time of broken politics and rampant Spanish nationalism in the face of Catalonia’s independence crisis, Spain has become fertile ground for the far right party, the Steve Bannon-funded, Vox.
This was Vox’s first election where they had a chance of winning seats. Along with the liberal packaged right wing party Cuidadanos (Citizens), and the traditional conservative Popular Party (PP), many feared a right wing coalition.
Pedro Sánchez, PSOE’s Prime Minister, framed the campaign on the basis that the Socialists were the only left wing party big enough to stop this. Sánchez, who became Prime Minister nine months earlier, after a vote of no confidence toppled the PP, had called the early election as he could not pass the annual budget.
Vox promised to dismantle devolution and centralise powers to Madrid. It also wants to ban abortions and independence parties, deport immigrants and lower corporate taxes. The media were hyping up the party after it formed a right wing coalition following Andalucia’s regional election in December 2018, where PSOE has been in power since the death of Franco. This sent shockwaves through Spain.
With Spain undergoing a feminists’ revival, it was clear that women could sway the election. A week before the election, an estimated 40% of voters, mostly women and the young, were still undecided. With the PP moving rightwards under an inexperienced new leadership, Ciudadanos tried to win their voters who were despondent with the levels of corruption in the party.
The further left party Unidas Podemos, which is close to the Corbyn project in Britain, was predicted to go down from its 69 seats. Sánchez called the election while Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias was on paternity leave and the party was on the back foot. Despite this, Podemos recovered their form for the campaign after months of infighting, with high profile MPs leaving and the media-hyped scandal of the leader buying a house in the mountains for his growing family.
Iglesias was able to save the party with his rhetoric and a new calmer approach at the televised debates the week before the elections – very different from the combative activist who had sprung onto the scene in 2015.
Meanwhile, both Cuidadanos and the PP attacked Sánchez, accusing him of colluding with the Catalans to break up Spain.
In the election itself PSOE were the biggest winners, up from their 85 seat minority government to 123 seats, the largest party by far in Parliament.
Podemos and its coalition with other left parties won 42 seats, giving the left a total of 165 seats, 11 short of a majority.
So Sánchez is now asking for support from elsewhere and, unfortunately for him, this may include the Catalan independence parties, five of whose leaders are still on trial. He wanted to avoid this as it will make passing legislation difficult without giving the Catalans something in return, namely, a referendum, which no party other than Podemos is willing to offer.
Many fear that Sánchez may turn his back on left wing voters who left Podemos to vote for the safe bet of PSOE, out of fear of the far right. PSOE members are worried that the party machine, which is more liberal than left, the financial sectors and the EU could pressure Sánchez into making a coalition with Cuidadanos, despite both parties ruling it out before the election. On the night of the election, PSOE members gathered outside the party HQ and chanted, referring to the Ciudadanos leader, “Not with Rivera! Not with Rivera!”.
The PP now have 66 seats, down from 137, their worst loss since their formation. Vox thankfully never lived up to the media’s expectations but managed to win 24 seats, leaving the right wing block unable to form a government.
In the following weeks, Sánchez met with all party leaders to try to form a government. His meeting with the Cuidudanos leader did not go smoothly, with Rivera being hostile and demanding. Many on the left are hoping that PSOE will have to work with Podemos to form a left wing government. Now the left in Spain has a chance to prove that they have the answers to the country’s growing inequalities and regional disputes.