The Spanish elections: What the results mean for Spain and the rest of us

Alex Holmes - Executive Editor

Pedro Sanchez, leader of the PSOE, waves to supporters shortly before the election result. | Image: PSOE

The frontpage of El Español, A Spanish daily newspaper, tomorrow reads “The Rajoy disaster leaves government in the wind”. Undoubtedly tonight’s result was something that Rajoy, Spain’s incumbent Prime Minister, and leader of the center-right pro-austerity People’s Party (PP) was dreading. The result tonight leaves Spain unsure who will be in government tomorrow, as no single party have the required number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies to form a government, leaving Spain with the troubling prospect of coalition government.

Spain has seen two parties who this morning had no seats in the parliament, end the day with almost a third of them. Up until today, Spain had a two-party system very much like Britain does at the moment, but overnight it has become a four party one. The Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) who have been in opposition for many years and have been the victim of much bad press over their corruption in recent months have ceded the left-wing to a party that didn’t exist only 2 years ago. Podemos, a contemporary of Greece’s SYRIZA, lead by devisive figure, Pablo Iglesias Turrión, has ended the day with 69 seats in the parliament of only 350, coming third. The party which wishes to renegotiate austerity, Spain’s position in the EU and Spain’s own constitution, has been made kingmaker by the result today. Podemos have performed well particularly with those wanting reform, and particularly the young. In a way that Corbyn could only dream of, they have rallied hundreds of thousands of young people and people who wouldn’t normally vote to the polls. They are claiming victory, and despite coming third, this is a victory for Podemos, as the election result effectively makes them kingmakers.

The Citizens Party is also a relatively new party on the scene, despite being 10 years old, they have only started experiencing electoral success in the last few years. Like Podemos, they have managed to rally the support of those disaffected with the two traditional parties. Whilst Podemos have snatched predominantly PSOE voters, Citizens have managed to snatch many moderate and center-right voters disaffected with the ruling center-right People’s Party due to the PP’s harsh austerity measures and negative message. However they only achieved 40 seats at this election, so whilst they certainly have a say, they can’t form a coalition with either of the two main parties without the support of Podemos also.

The issue is this; PSOE and PP have been at each others throats for years, much of Rajoy of the PP’s election campaign message has been about how the PSOE are unfit for government, and this has bolstered the performance of Podemos, and lost the PSOE 20 seats, despite them being in opposition. It is next to unthinkable that the two ‘traditional’ parties would form a government together. We can also rule out a Podemos-PP coalition for obvious reasons. This leaves only three viable options under the current makeup of the Chamber of Deputies.

Podemos and it's supporters will liekly have a much greater influence on Spanish politics for the years to come. | Image: Vicente José Nadal Asensio
Podemos and it’s supporters will liekly have a much greater influence on Spanish politics for the years to come. | Image: Vicente José Nadal Asensio

Option 1 is a coalition between Citizens, Podemos and the PSOE – a grand coalition between the 2nd, 3rd and 4th parties. This would mean that the government would be extremely ineffective at passing legislation. Podemos are left-wing and I don’t use that term lightly, they oppose the Lisbon Treaty and free-trade; they also want to change the constitution in order to allow provinces such as Catalonia to secede from Spain in referendum, something which is currently illegal under the constitution. Citizens oppose this to the letter, they are pro-EU and defend the constitution and free-trade. Their ideologies are at odds with each other and if either was to enter into a coalition, they would want some of their policies to go through. As one of these parties going into coalition with the other would mean one abandoning their core policies, it would likely cause electoral disaster for one of them at the next election, or an extremely short-lived coalition. Nobody wants to go the same way as the Lib-Dems did this May in Britain. For that reason, I’d take Option 1 with a pinch of salt.

Option 2 is a coalition without Citizens, but rather between Podemos, PSOE and some of the smaller regional parties. This option would also make up a majority, and unlike the other, their policies are more compatible. Podemos and the small regional (and often separatist) parties agree on one important issue, they want to change the constitution to allow them to secede from Spain and get independence through a referendum, much like Scotland tried and failed to do last year. Podemos’ other extreme policies would not be a bother to these parties as they want to leave Spain, so the short-term pain of supporting some of Podemos’ policies wouldn’t be an unthinkable option in exchange for independence. If Catalonia and Basque Country were independent, then they could reverse Podemos’ policies in a fortnight. The only stumbling block to this option is the PSOE’s willingness to accept Podemos and aid seperatists in leaving Spain. PSOE strongly believe in Europe and Spain, and Podemos simply do not. However this may be a small price to pay in the eyes of the PSOE for 4 years of power in which they could reverse or at very least dampen down many of the PP’s disastrous policies, as the future is bleak electorally for the PSOE and they may not have the chance again. I would take this option with a smaller, but still significant pinch of salt.

Option 3 is simply no government. The only two viable options offer an extremely bleak future for at least some of their members and wouldn’t be stable, nor productive. If a new government with a majority of support in the Chamber of Deputies cannot be formed in the next few weeks, the King will have no choice but to follow the constitution and call for fresh elections. The Chamber of Deputies elected today could be an extremely short lived one.

“Spain has voted for the left. Spain wants change but the vote shows the PP as the leading political force.”

– Pedro Sanchez – Leader of the PSOE

As for what happens next, the leader of PSOE have symbolically called upon the PP to make a go at forming a coalition before they try to, an act that is practically impossible for the PP. Whether they are humuoring Rajoy, or just playing for more time to negotiate with Podemos or Citizens, we will have to wait and see.

For Europe, the result of the next few days of negotiations will be incredibly important for Europe and Britain. With Podemos in government, we could see Spain also wanting to renegotiate it’s place in the EU, or even perhaps leave. We could also see Catalonia leaving Spain (and the EU) which will have significant impact on the EU and the public opinion of British voters for when they go to the polls next year in the EU referendum. However, there is also a distinct possibility of political deadlock, which could lead to fresh elections, perhaps giving Podemos, or the PP the edge they need to get what they want. Spain is a key member of the EU and Eurozone and political instability and uncertainty like this could have significant impact on the future of not only Spain, but the EU.