With Spanish politics riven by national and ideological divides, the only certainty so far about the April election, is that it will mark a departure from every other election since Spain’s return to democracy, in 1976. Neither the ruling Socialist party – Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), who called a snap election after failing to get a budget ratified – or their traditional rivals, the Partido Popular (PP) are likely to gain enough seats to gain a majority in the 350-seat parliament, or Cortes. It will also see the return of the far-right to the Spanish corridors of power, for the first time in many decades.
El Pais, probably Spain’s largest newspaper, recently reported a poll, based on the results of other polls, which put the PSOE on course to earn 29% of votes, which would see them earn a significant increase in the 84 seats they held in the last administration. But that’s not enough to form a government, and they will need help, most likely from either Podemos (a left wing party which began as an anti-austerity party) or even from Catalan nationalists. Of course, the shadow of recent events in Catalonia looms large over these elections.
The rise of Podemos in the 2016 elections, followed by Catalan nationalism in 2017, has found its opposing force in the 2019 elections in the shape of Vox – a right-wing party that opposes regional nationalism, and brands itself as Christian Democratic and anti-immigration. Only having been founded in 2013, it is particularly popular on a regional level in Andalucía, but has never won seats in the national elections. That will change on April 28th, the first time a far-right party has gained a position in government, since the collapse of the Francoist system in 1975/76. No party has gained as much ground as Vox, which currently stands at 10.7% – according to a poll in the Financial Times. Their rise has placed severe pressure on the PP, under new conservative nationalist leader, Pablo Casado, (who replaced Mariano Rajoy in 2018); and also the centre-right Ciudadanos party, that emerged from the Catalan crisis with particular credit, but now find themselves facing a rising tide from the hard right.
“Ciudadanos walks a very difficult line: it has to avoid getting too close to Vox, because that would damage its centrist credentials, but it has to get enough votes to get into power”, Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at Teneo, told the Financial Times. “A coalition with Vox at the national level would create serious problems for the party.”
The most likely outcome, despite the rise of Vox, is the return of Pedro Sanchez as Prime Minister, and a PSOE led administration, but they will definitely need the support of Podemos, and perhaps others.
For the PP to succeed, they would likely need the support of both Ciudadanos and Vox, which would be a most uncomfortable arrangement – for the former in particular.
However, these forecasts are still subject to a very high margin of error in the polls. According to a CIS Poll, the margin of error could be as high as 42%, which could completely remold any existing permutations. Support for the PP is in steep decline, down from over 35% to just over 20%, and PSOE has failed to gain as much ground as they hoped. The silver lining for the main parties, and centrists such as Ciudadanos – although they have said they won’t support a Socialist Government – may be the Spanish economy, which is still in relatively good health, growing at well over 2% this year. Pragmatism and stability may therefore still come more into play as polling day comes closer, with voters choosing to back those they know.
From an EU perspective, it could be argued that Brussels would prefer a PSOE / Podemos alliance, rather than a PP Government that would rely on a populist stakeholder, in the shape of Vox, to help stem the gathering momentum within the Union, of far-right political gains.