Spanish elections show Socialists advance as right wing fractures to far right

By Mark Buckley

The latest general election in Spain confirms the deepening polarisation across society. The socialists (PSOE) were the big winners of the election but remain well short of forming a majority government. PSOE will be forced to rely on a similar combination of parties that had previously supported it in a minority government before it called a general election in mid-February. As a result, none of the problems of the previous administration have been resolved.

On the right, there has been a further splintering, with now three major parties including the far right Vox party which registered 10 per cent in the vote. The traditional right-wing party Partido Popular (PP) almost halved its vote to just under 17 per cent compared to the 2016 election, while Ciudadanos (Cs) made small gains with just under 16 per cent of the vote. The emergence of the explicitly racist Vox party has pulled all of the right-wing parties further rightwards, echoing the anti-Muslim, anti-migrant, mysogynistic rhetoric of Vox.

The three parties of the right together lost over 3 per cent of the vote and 19 seats as turnout soared to almost 76 per cent, nearly 10 per cent higher than the last election. Vox represents a new, more sinister threat. But clearly many voters mobilised to oppose them.

The broader left and Catalan nationalist forces which had supported the PSOE minority government advanced by just 2 per cent, but gained 15 seats. Within that grouping, PSOE rose 6 per cent and gained 38 seats, but at under 28 per cent this is just two-thirds of its vote before the economic crisis in 2008. Podemos’s percentage loss was more or less equal to the PSOE gains, while Podemos lost 29 seats, possibly driven by a desire to keep out the far right by voting for the main party of the left. The other parties to make gains were the smaller nationalist parties, including Bildu in the Basque country, which doubled its seats to 4.

The split between forces of the left and right is highlighted by the even balance of forces, with the right on a combined total of 43 per cent and the former left allies at 47 per cent.

PSOE leaders have made bold claims about their ability to form a government. But it scuppered its own government in February as it approached non-austerity budget negotiations with Podemos extremely warily. At the same time, it implemented increasingly repressive measures against the Catalan independence movement, even as it relied on the votes of the main Catalan nationalists in the ERC.

PSOE probably received a boost from the rising threat of the far right in this election. But it is unlikely to be able to sustain even this level of support on a centrist line of not tackling austerity combined with repression of national claims. It needs to break from both these policies to halt the regroupment and rise of the far right.