The PP has won the election, but who will help it into government?

Sunday outcome means the Spanish right is stronger and the left weaker, but Mariano Rajoy still needs to reach elusive deals

Mariano Rajoy kisses his wife Elvira to celebrate the PP victory in Sunday elections.
Mariano Rajoy kisses his wife Elvira to celebrate the PP victory in Sunday elections.Tarek (EFE)

The Popular Party (PP) has achieved a clear victory in the Sunday elections. But the fact that the conservatives fell short of the 176 seats required for a parliamentary majority, in a highly polarized environment that is not conducive to dealmaking, means that governing coalitions will be hard to come by.

There are no substantial changes to Spain’s political scenario following a repeat election where turnout was 69.84%, compared with 73.21% on December 20, 2015.

Against all forecasts, the Socialist Party (PSOE) has managed to hold on to its second spot although it loses five seats (85 against 90), while the leftist alliance of Unidos Podemos has lost a million votes even if it gained two seats from December (71 against 69).

We were expecting different results. The time has come to do some reflecting Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias

The biggest loser of the night was Ciudadanos, which dropped from 40 to 32 seats after voters heeded the message of fear issued by acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who said moderate voters had to band together to stop Podemos from reaching government.

As a result, the Spanish right emerges stronger than ever while the left is weaker than it was in December. Rajoy’s message of fear against the “radical” and “extremist” Unidos Podemos has worked, and the Brexit vote in Britain offered a last-minute support to his calls for moderation against the siren songs of populism.

PP: Now what?

The PP cannot simply turn to Ciudadanos for a center-right government, as their combined seats only amount to 169, short of the required 176. This means that Rajoy must seek a grand coalition with the Socialists, or else ask them to abstain at the investiture vote, which would effectively allow him to be reinstated as head of a minority government.

Rajoy has already expressed a desire to negotiate with the PSOE. In his victory speech past midnight, he said that he “will talk with everybody” with the goal of “defending Spain and 100% of Spaniards.”

The PP’s national executive committee is scheduled to meet at 1pm on Monday to detail Rajoy’s plans to meet with the Socialists for a governing deal, or for a PSOE abtention at the congressional vote to appoint a new prime minister.

PSOE: a difficult choice

The PSOE may still be the most-voted leftist party in Spain, but the election outcome means it now has to take its most difficult decision since the democratic transition: to allow or not allow its historical rival to govern.

On Sunday night, Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez blamed Podemos squarely for the situation.

“Pablo Iglesias’ instransigence, the way he only looks after his own personal interests” are the reason why the PP has improved its results, he said drily in a speech shortly after 11.30pm. “The PSOE has managed to preserve its condition as the hegemonic party of the left: it did it on December 20 and it did it again now, after facing 20 parties who had come together with the sole purpose of defeating the PSOE.”

The statement bodes ill for any future agreements between the PSOE and Unidos Podemos.

Disappointment for Podemos

Against all forecasts, Unidos Podemos did not do better than the PSOE, either in seats or in votes. Although it adds two seats from December, it lost 1.2 million votes compared with the sum of each alliance member’s individual outcome at the first election.

“We were expecting different results. The time has come to do some reflecting,” said Iglesias on Sunday night. However, he pointedly avoided the word “defeat” and defended that his alliance with the United Left “has revealed itself as the right way from the vantage point of responsibility. We are here to take on responsibility, but I think that there is a lot of future left for us in this country.”

Meanwhile, his number two, Iñigo Errejón, admitted that “these are not good results, they are not what we expected. We have proven that these processes do not occur in a linear fashion or in the way we would like.”

Ciudadanos: smaller but influential?

The emerging center party lost eight deputies, yet the sum of the PP and Ciudadanos now is 169, compared with 163 after the December election. But Rajoy has already decided that his preferential partner is the PSOE, and if this grand coalition comes to good term, Ciudadanos would no longer be necessary.

If, however, Sánchez refuses to cooperate, Ciudadanos would have to choose between continuing to ask for Rajoy’s resignation or giving in and making deals with the PP. So far, party leader Albert Rivera seems disinclined to deal with Rajoy, whom he accuses of widespread corruption.

“If there are no changes, we will be in the opposition,” said Rivera, who previously reached a deal with the PSOE that did not have enough congressional support to make Sánchez prime minister.

“I am telling the PP and PSOE that if they are ready to sit down at a table to form a government, then Ciudadanos will be at that table;” he added. “The only condition is not putting seats ahead of Spaniards [interests]. There are over three million Spaniards who said that the center exists, and that it is here to stay.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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