Spain’s traditional two- party system suffered a severe jolt on Sunday when newcomers Podemos and Ciudadanos captured 109 seats between them to leave the governing party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy fighting for its political future.
In a 350-seat parliament, Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party captured just 123 seats, significantly less than the number required for an outright majority. The Spanish Monarch, King Felipe VI, will now enter discussions with all parties before he nominates a candidate for Prime Minister. That nomination, however, must come with the approval of the parliament itself. According to the BBC’s Tom Burridge in Madrid, this is the beginning of a new era, as “the unrivalled dominance of the PP and the Socialists, who alternated in power for 32 years, always with parliamentary majorities, is over.”
Although Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists his party is still the “number one force” the refusal of the Socialist Party to back a newly-formed Rajoy administration makes it exceptionally difficult for the Prime Minister to form a new government. The assertion of Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez – that Spain’s electorate has voiced a desire for a “move to the left” – gains credence when his own party’s 90 seats are added to the 69 seats gained by the anti-austerity Podemos, who picked up 20.66% of the vote. In addition, the centrist party Ciudadanos picked up 40 seats, some 13.93 of total votes cast.
As ever with Spain, however, the specter of Catalonia hovers in the background. As Giles Tremlett noted in today’s Guardian: “The last laugh belongs to separatists in Catalonia. For the first time there is now a large separatist bloc which holds the balance of power between the left and the right. That is, perhaps, the most powerful proof that the status quo is bust.”
While a coalition between PP and Socialists is all but ruled out by Pedro Sanchez, other partnerships appear similarly unworkable due to the inability of all concerned to surmount the 176 seat figure which grants a parliamentary majority. All may not be lost for Mr. Rajoy, however. Despite his party’s vote share falling from 44.6% in 2011 to 28.7% in this election, the Politico website still sounded a positive note for the incumbent Prime Minister and his party:“that it has remained in the lead is a tribute to slowly improving levels of economic confidence in a country where unemployment remains eye-wateringly high and the memories of “la crisis” remain fresh. The PP has clung on despite shocks that would have destroyed other European governments. If it stays in power it will do so as a minority government, lurching from vote to vote, but in the circumstances, even this is an achievement.”