While it is true that this second vote in six months did not offer an obvious majority, after a first on-the-spot reading, Spain’s 26 June vote did change the political landscape in Spain and indirectly in Europe. Brexit’s long wave of contributed undoubtedly to the result, but so did Unidos Podemos’ (UP) at times inconsistent statements and the Popular Party’s (PP) polarization and fear campaign.
To determine the results in terms of seats was an electoral law that over rewards the winning parties, so much that in the smallest constituencies it cancels altogether the second largest party. It comes as no wonder that the most adversely affected parties want to change a law that so heavily distorts the results in terms of percentage.
It is safe to say that Spaniards rewarded those parties that until yesterday kept proposing government pacts or clear-cut policies.
The PP led by Mariano Rajoy, in power since 2011, gained 4.31 percentage points (from 28.72% to 33.03%), but as much as a 14% in terms of seats, thanks to the aforementioned electoral law, outdistancing the second winner, the Socialist Party (PSOE) by as many as 52 seats.
“This vote gave us the right to govern,” Rajoy said speaking from the balcony at the Madrid PP headquarters in Calle Genova. The man whose policies spurred growth again in Spain, though often exacting a heavy social toll, did not win an absolute majority, but his numbers erase Ciudadanos’ and PSOE’s likely temptation to ask for him to resign in return for a direct or external support.
New in this election is also another option to the stalemate: the PP could form a government with the support of Ciudadanos and two smaller parties, the Basque Nationalist Party and the Canarias Coalition.
“We are an important country in Europe, and we will rise to the occasion,” said Rajoy to his fans, who chanted the slogan “Sí, se puede” (Yes we can) stolen from UP, the left alliance that failed to overtake the PSOE.
The Socialists saved the day against forecasts that they would become the third political force, and stop being the main party in the left. Nonetheless, 85 seats (compared to 90 in December 2015) is the worst result in the history of the party, despite winning slightly in percentage terms (22, 67% from 22.01%). “We are not satisfied,” said Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the party that ruled the longest in forty years of Spanish democracy. “But we are the party that consolidated democracy, built the welfare state, modernized Spain and integrated it in Europe, a party of progress and reforms in an undivided Spain”.
The reference to an undivided Spain is not the only message Sanchez sent out on election night to Pablo Iglesias. This aimed at reinforcing the notion that confronted with the effect of Brexit on Europe, the Spanish people chose to show they care about the EU.
UP won, in fact, in Catalonia, where Iglesias reassured his constituency all along the campaign about the alliance being willing to side some kind of independence referendum. It won also in the Basque Country. Elsewhere in Spain, vice versa, potential new voters — proceeding from the PSOE — might have not understood Iglesias’ repeated refusal in the last six months to a pact with the PSOE against the PP. Others might have been puzzled by his different stances depending on where he was campaigning.
Among other ambiguities, Iglesias did not clarify, except in the last few weeks, his ambiguous position in the past as Spain’s membership of the EU is concerned, or Podemos’ solutions to the country’s sovereign debt. “A sad day for Europe,” was Iglesias’ comment after the British vote, but perhaps that came too late or was perceived as in contrast with what he had said in Catalonia.
Journalists were not been kind with Iglesias at the press conference: “Didn’t you count your chickens too early?” “Has the UP alliance touched its ceiling?” Podemos’ leaders committed to a thorough analysis, but said also to be proud of having (retained) 71 seats considering that their party was founded just a few years ago. “And we have a responsibility towards young people.” The party in the square in front of the Queen Sofia Museum in Madrid was nonetheless subdued.
UP’s polarizing strategy of presenting the grouping as the only alternative to Rajoy’s center-right austerity policies benefited the latter.
Ciudadanos, the moderate center party lost 0.8%, but as much as 8 seats. At any rate, Albert Rivera intends to sit at any government negotiation table.
Governability is this time hanging by a thread a tad thicker than after the December polls. A solution for a government needs to be found. Firstly, voters would not digest easily a third poll. Secondly, the country needs urgently a definitive budget, solutions to unemployment and other social issues, and reforms — constitutional, economic, and that of the electoral law according to Ciudadanos and Podemos. Thirdly, the European context changed. The Brexit referendum took off guard Spain, which considers itself an important member of the EU, and acknowledges that political instability in Spain could prove dramatic in Europe’s most difficult time.
Unlike what is happening in the rest of Europe, in Spain citizens penalized the newer parties because they knew less about the pacts these could broker. Voting for the traditional parties they demanded stability. And Europe. It is safe to say that populism didn’t win.
King Felipe VI will be soon consulting the parties. “The Game of Thrones just began in Spain” was how many summed up the upcoming task of forming a government.
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