On the Spanish elections: Ça commence aujourd’hui

Spaniards voted on Sunday primarily against a right-wing coalition and for moderation regarding the territorial conflict.

The most important question about these Spanish elections was whether or not the right would get enough support to form a government. The right in Spain is now fragmented in three parties: the traditional conservative Popular Party PP (in power until the vote of no confidence held in May 2018 led and won by the socialist Pedro Sánchez), the new center-right party Ciudadanos, C (which was first represented in the national parliament only in 2015), and the brand new far right party Vox.

The PP and C had just reached an agreement with Vox to govern in Andalucía after the recent regional elections, and during the campaign there were explicit statements regarding the feasibility of this right-wing coalition at the national level. In Spain, the mainstream right never even considered to exclude the far right from a potential government. It was clear that if they won the necessary seats, they would form a government. The polls gave an uncertain scenario regarding the likelihood of such a coalition, so even if the PSOE was expected to win, voters went to the polls without knowing what kind of government could come out of the elections.

Spanish citizens have very clearly voted against this right-wing coalition in massive numbers. Turnout has been one of the largest in our recent democratic history reaching over 76% of the census. The parliament has now 186 out of 350 seats belonging to parties of the left, including PSOE, Podemos and several left-wing regional parties mostly from Galicia, Basque Country and Catalonia.

In a context of increasing polarization,the Spaniards have voted for moderation. The socialist party PSOE has clearly won the election with 123 seats and 29% of the vote. This is a remarkable increase with respect to the historical minimum of 85 seats that PSOE won in 2016. The large distance from the next party (PP, 66 seats and only 17% of the vote, worst result since 1979) should facilitate PSOE’s task of forming a government. This result can be attributed to several factors, the weight of which will have to be evaluated once we have post-election survey data: the threat of the right-wing coalition, the ability to present the policies carried out in the past few months they had been in power, and the support of women.

Podemos, a left-wing political party created in 2014 paid the price of this socialist victory keeping only 45 of the 71 seats they got in 2016 together with its regional allies. Podemos has also been punished by the electoral system which under-represent small and mid-sized parties with territorially spread support, but still remains an important party with an ability to condition government formation.

Moderation has also won in another dimension of the election result which is fundamental for the mid-term future of Spanish politics. In Catalunya, ERC has been the most voted party in a general election for the first time 1977. ERC is a left-wing pro-independence party that after taking a leading role in the events of autumn 2017 (celebration of a referendum of independence declared void by the Spanish Constitutional Court, unilateral declaration of independence), has taken a more pragmatic stand in favor of dialogue and negotiation with the Spanish government. In a press conference from jail, its leader Oriol Junqueras declared that ERC would do anything in its hand to avoid a government including the far right.

In Catalunya electoral turnout was 17 percentage points higher in 2019 than in 2016. Even considering that participation was very low in the previous general elections, this is a huge unprecedented increase in mobilization. Catalans knew that the right-wing coalition was a particularly dangerous threat to Catalan self-government. Interestingly, the second party in Cataluña has been the Socialist Party, and not Ciudadanos. The two more moderate actors in the two sides of the Catalan conflict are the two most voted. The PP has almost disappeared keeping only one seat of the 48 that correspond to the Catalan districts. The hard discourse of Ciudananos and PP (and of course Vox) regarding Catalunya has not paid off this time, not only in Catalunya, but also in the Basque country where neither PP, nor C nor Vox win any seats. Such harsh discourse is maybe unnecessary when Catalan pro-independence leaders are being judged in Madrid, deprived of their political rights during the campaign -some were candidates-