Spaniards give centre-right a second chance

Spain’s conservative People’s Party (PP) strengthened its position in parliamentary elections on 26 June, the second such poll in just over six months.

Arise in support for the centre-right had been predicted, but the increase, of 14 seats, was unexpected. The PP was the only party to win more MPs.

But the PP did not win an absolute majority, and needs an agreement with other parties to govern. However, the results give the PP more legitimacy, and a path to power – possibly backed by the centrist Citizens party (C’s) and with the acquiescence of the Socialists (PSOE).

PSOE lost five seats but stayed as the second-biggest party, with the expected surge of the left-wing Unidos Podemos coalition not materialising.

Commentators put Unidos Podemos’ failure down to two factors – its coalition with the long-standing United Left party, and a perceived arrogance shown by Podemos leaders during the campaign. Podemos believed they would overtake PSOE and be able to force the Socialists to back them without any concessions. In the end, Podemos lost more than a million votes.

The Citizens party lost eight MPs, a larger drop than had been expected. Its pragmatic voters moved to the PP to head off the threat of Podemos.

Negotiations begin

Forming government will not be easy for PP. It won 137 seats – some way short of the 176 needed for an absolute majority.

Albert Rivera, the president of Citizens, had wanted the PP to drop Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as a condition for working together. But its hand is now weak, with the PP having won the most votes – and gained votes – despite a difficult campaign and being in the midst corruption accusations.

Together, the PP and Citizens have only 169 seats. An alliance with two former PP partners, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which won five seats, and the Canary Islands Coalition, with one MP, would not be enough for PP to achieve the majority it needs.

PSOE’s choice

PSOE faces a difficult decision: should it oppose Rajoy’s re-appointment as Prime Minister, a third election looms. It would be difficult to justify that decision to the Spanish people.

If it allows Rajoy to return, its own voters would be angered. But this looks to be the most likely option at this stage. Some of the party’s leaders have already said that, given these election results, Rajoy should continue governing, even though others state that the PSOE will not abstain.

As noted by journalist Javier Ayuso in El País , “the solution to this devilish dilemma is to change the question of ‘who to collaborate with’ to ‘what to collaborate for’”. Because, beyond the investiture ceremony, there are four years left to pass laws and govern “for everybody”, as Rajoy said on the night of 26 June. That is where the success of this possible government will be tested.

Despite having won the lowest number of seats in its history, and having won fewer votes than the PP in regions where it has governed up until now, PSOE seems to have saved face in these elections. But that may only be temporary. The party faces an internal leadership crisis and must deal with an internal restructuring after this debacle.

In Catalonia, the independence movement lives on

The PP won in 41 of the 50 provinces, and in the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. The only regions where it failed to win provinces were the Basque Country and Catalonia.

Catalonia is different. In this region, where the government seeks to secede from Spain, support for independence (or, at least, the right to decide) is strong.

A pro-independence leftist party, ERC, won in two provinces. In the other two, including Barcelona, the Podemos coalition (which does not support independence, but does back a binding referendum) was the winner. The media in Catalonia increasingly supports the view that Catalonia’s only option is to follow “its own way”, away from the government in Madrid.

The Brexit factor

The results of the UK referendum on EU membership came late in the campaign, which, by law, has to finish on Friday night. The vote for ‘Brexit’ was met with dismay – no party supported it, and it generated great uncertainty in the markets and among Spanish citizens in the UK, of whom there are around 200,000 (many of them working in jobs they cannot find in Spain).

The news is believed to have also affected voters, who saw the PP as a more reassuring choice in the face of such uncertainty.

The Spanish stock market has welcomed the election results; at opening on Monday, the IBEX 35 (the main stock index of the Spanish stock exchange) was up by two per cent.

Words  Yolanda Vega – Director Public Affairs Practice (Burson-Marsteller Madrid), with David O’Leary
Images  CC/Flickr Elenir

Leave a Reply