Spain’s vote: Far-right Vox stumbles, political power struggle looms

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Spain’s vote: Far-right Vox stumbles, political power struggle looms

In Spain’s recent election, there’s political deadlock: the far-right Vox party was foiled in its attempt to seize power. While the conservative Popular Party emerged victorious, it fell short of ousting Prime Minister Sánchez as polling data had predicted.

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Spain may be facing political gridlock and possibly a new election, but a national ballot produced one result that will be welcomed across the capitals of Europe: a far-right party aiming to get its hands on the levers of power was thwarted.

Spain’s Vox party, with its ultranationalist bent, lost support among voters in Sunday’s election, dashing its hopes to be a kingmaker and enter a governing coalition that would have given the far right its first share of power in Spain since Francisco Franco’s 20th-century dictatorship.

The mainstream conservative Popular Party won the election but performed well below polling data that had forecast it could oust Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez if it formed a government with Vox as a junior partner.

Even though Mr. Sánchez’s Socialists finished second, they and their allied parties celebrated the outcome as a victory since their combined forces gained slightly more seats than the Popular Party and Vox. The bloc that would likely support Mr. Sánchez totaled 172 seats, while parties on the right had 170.

“This is a major victory for the left,” Dr. Jason Xidias, a lecturer in Political Science at New York University’s Madrid campus, said Monday.

Political horse-trading in coming weeks, when smaller regional parties could offer their support for a government in return for concessions, will be “very complicated,” Dr. Xidias said.

The closer-than-expected outcome placed a question mark over Spain’s future leadership. But the Popular Party insisted it could not be denied its shot at forming a government.

“Nobody would understand it now if [other parties] all came together to prevent the party that won the elections from becoming the government,” the PP’s deputy secretary Miguel Tellado told public broadcaster RTVE on Monday.

Mr. Sánchez put together Spain’s first-ever coalition government, which took power in Jan. 2020. Mr. Sánchez has been Spain’s prime minister since 2018.

Socialist voter Delphine Fernández said she hopes Mr. Sánchez can stay in power. She is crossing her fingers that she and the 37 million Spaniards called to vote don’t have to do it all over again like in 2019, when Mr. Sánchez had to score back-to-back election victories before he was able to forge a coalition government.

“It was always going to be difficult. Now we are [practically] tied, but let’s see if we can still govern,” said Mr. Fernández, a lawyer. “I don’t want to vote again in a few weeks. It’s now or never.”

But the chances of Mr. Sánchez picking up the support of the 176 lawmakers needed to have an absolute majority in the Madrid-based Lower House of Parliament are not great.

The divided results have made the Catalan separatist party Junts (Together) key to Mr. Sánchez forming a government. But if Junts asked for a referendum on independence for northeast Catalonia, that would likely be far too costly a price for Mr. Sánchez to pay.

“We won’t make Pedro Sánchez PM in exchange for nothing,” Míriam Nogueras of Junts said.

With all votes counted, the Popular Party collected 136 seats of the 350 up for grabs. Even with the 33 seats that the far-right Vox got and the one seat going to an allied party, the PP was still seven seats short of a majority.

The Socialists gathered 122 seats, two more than they previously held. Mr. Sánchez could likely call on the 31 seats of its junior coalition partner Sumar (Joining Forces) and several smaller parties to at least total more than the sum of the right-wing parties, but also would fall four short of a majority unless Junts joined them.

“Spain and all the citizens who have voted have made themselves clear. The backward-looking bloc that wanted to undo all that we have done has failed,” Mr. Sánchez told a jubilant crowd gathered at Socialists’ headquarters in Madrid.

After his party took a beating in regional and local elections in May, Mr. Sánchez could have waited until December to face a national vote. Instead, he stunned his rivals by moving up the vote in hopes of gaining a bigger boost from his supporters.

Mr. Sánchez can add this election night to yet another comeback in his career that has been built around beating the odds. The 51-year-old had to mount a mutiny among rank-and-file Socialists to return to heading his party before he won Spain’s only no-confidence vote to oust his Popular Party predecessor in 2018.

PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo seemed even more unlikely to put together a majority.

Mr. Feijóo focused the PP’s campaign on what he called the lack of trustworthiness of Mr. Sánchez. The Socialists and other leftist parties, meanwhile, drummed on the fear of having Vox in power as a junior partner in a PP-led coalition.

A PP-Vox government would have meant another EU member moved firmly to the right, a trend seen recently in Sweden, Finland, and Italy. Countries such as Germany and France are concerned about what such a shift would portend for EU immigration and climate policies.

Vox, however, lost 19 seats from four years earlier. The election took place during Spain’s six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, and a strong Vox showing would have sent shockwaves through EU politics.

Mr. Feijóo sought to distance the PP from Vox during the campaign. But Mr. Sánchez, in moving up the election, made the campaign coincide with the PP and Vox striking deals to govern together in town halls and regional governments following the May ballots.

Vox campaigned on rolling back gender violence laws. And both the PP and Vox agreed on wanting to repeal a new transgender rights law and a democratic memory law that seeks to help families wanting to unearth the thousands of victims of Francisco Franco’s regime still missing in mass graves.

“PP has been a victim of its expectations, and the Socialists have been able to capitalize on the fear of the arrival of Vox. Bringing forward the elections has turned out to be the right decision for Pedro Sánchez,” said Manuel Mostaza, director of Public Policy at the Spanish consulting firm Atrevia.

Spain’s new Parliament will meet in a month. King Felipe VI then appoints one of the party leaders to submit him or herself to a parliamentary vote to form a new government. Lawmakers have a maximum period of three months to reach an agreement. Otherwise, new elections would be triggered.


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