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Spain election: Conservatives win but fall short of majority

Popular Party leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo is hoping to become Spain's next prime minister

The center-right Popular Party has beaten Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’ Socialists but would need several junior parties to govern. The result is likely to spark weeks of political uncertainty.

Spain’s opposition right-wing Popular Party (PP) won Sunday’s snap general election, with 100% of the votes counted, but was set to fall short of a parliamentary majority.

The PP and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’ Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) had 33.1% and 31.7% shares of the vote respectively, the results showed.

This would give the PP, under leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo, 136 seats in the 350-seat lower chamber, the Congress of Deputies, and the Socialists 122 seats.

Parties now look to form coalition government

The result is likely to produce weeks of political jockeying, as the PP now requires support from several junior parties to achieve a governing majority of 176 seats.

Even the support of the far-right Vox, which offered to partner with the PP, the pair have only 169 seats secured, hence they are seven seats short.

But if that partnership is later confirmed, along with a third party, it would be the first time a far-right party had entered government in Spain since Francisco Franco’s dictatorship ended in the 1970s. Because of this, many smaller parties are expected to refuse joining such a coalition.

Meanwhile, the radical left-wing Sumar, which brought together 15 small leftist parties and backed the Socialists, won 31 seats, giving any alliance with Sanchez just 153 seats.

The remaining parties are mostly region-specific. The two Catalan pro-independence parties, who previously voted to support a Sanchez-led government, saw their seats fall, but may still play the role of kingmaker if Sanchez tries to stay on as prime minister.

Possible demands from the separatist Catalan party Junts (Together) for a referendum on Catalonia’s independence could be an obstacle to Sanchez bringing it on board in a coalition.

A failure by both sides to come up with a governing coalition could result in yet another election being called.

Sanchez and Feijoo both claim victory

The PP leader told supporters in Madrid on Sunday evening that his party would now try to form a government.

“As the candidate of the party that won the most seats, I believe it is my duty to try to form a government,” Feijoo said. 

He asked that “no one fall into the temptation of blocking the formation of a new government,” adding that Spain did not need a period of uncertainty.

Sanchez was also celebrating the result from the balcony of his party headquarters late Sunday, as the Socialists had won more seats and a higher percentage of the votes than in the 2019 election.

Socialist Workers' Party leader and current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez greets supporters outside the party's headquarters in Madrid
Sanchez celebrated after his party saw its number of seats in parliament increase by two image: Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo/picture alliance

He told supporters that the projected win of the conservative and far-right bloc had failed.

“The backward-looking bloc, which proposed a total repeal of all the progress we have made over the last four years, has failed,” he told supporters.

“The regressive block made up of the Popular Party and Vox were beaten.”

“There are many more who want Spain to keep advancing than those who want to step backward,” Sanchez added.

Why did Spain hold a snap election?

Sanchez called the election early after the left took a drubbing in local elections in May

The vote has originally been scheduled for December, but his gamble to wrong-foot his opponents appears to have backfired.

The election took place just three weeks after Spain took over the rotating presidency of the European Union and the PP’s win is a fresh blow to the European left after similar moves in other EU countries — Sweden, Finland and Italy.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez greets an election official before voting at a polling station in Madrid
The prime minister’s minority Socialist government is currently in coalition with far-left Unidas Podemos which ran in Sunday’s election under the Sumar platform image: Emilio Morenatti/AP/picture alliance

The election also took place at the height of summer,  when many voters may be away from their usual polling locations due to vacations and on the tail of a month of heat waves.

Turnout was calculated at 70.4%.

A record number, 2.47 million, of the 37.5 million registered voters cast an absentee ballot even before the polls opened

Minor party poised to play kingmaker

Pre-election polls had predicted a larger majority for the PP but that it would have to depend on Vox’s support to form a government.

Nunez Feijoo now needs to negotiate with much smaller parties to try to reach the 176 target. 

In an interview published on Friday by El Mundo, Feijoo stated that a candidate should not disclose their alliances just two days before an election. He added a government with Vox “is not ideal.”

However, PP and Vox have already teamed up to govern in dozens of regions and cities since local elections in May.

Support for the anti-Islam, anti-feminist party is on the wane. In the last election in November 2019, Vox won 52 seats. But Sunday’s election saw the far-right party’s share of seats fall to 33.

Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox party, addresses supporters following Spain's general election in Madrid
The far-right Vox party were unable to secure enough votes to form a two-party coalition government with the PP

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