The conservative Popular Party won the elections, but it fell short of its hopes of scoring a much bigger victory and forcing the removal of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Instead, the party led by candidate Alberto Núñez Feijóo performed below expectations of most of the campaign polls.
Even though Sánchez’s Socialists finished in second place, they and their allied parties celebrated the outcome like a victory since their combined forces gained slightly more seats than the PP and the far-right. The bloc that could likely support Sánchez totaled 172 seats; the right bloc behind Feijóo, 170.
“It was a Pyrrhic victory for the Popular Party, which is unable to form a government,” said political analyst Verónica Fumanal, adding the conservatives will now have to reach out to the far-right, and even then it won’t be enough. “I see a deadlock scenario in the Parliament.”
The closer-than-expected was likely to produce weeks of political jockeying and uncertainty over the country’s future leadership. The next prime minister only would be voted on once lawmakers are installed in the new Congress of Deputies.
But the chances of Sánchez of picking up the support of 176 lawmakers — the absolute majority in the Madrid-based Parliament — needed to form a government are not great either. The divided results has made the hardline Catalan separatist party Junts (Together) Sánchez’s potential kingmaker. If Junts asks for a referendum on independence for northeast Catalonia, that would likely be far too costly a price for Sánchez to play.
“We won’t make Pedro Sánchez PM in exchange for nothing,” Míriam Nogueras of Junts said after the results left her party holding the keys to power.
With 98% of votes counted, PP is on course for 136 seats. Even with the 33 seats that the far-right Vox is poised to get and the one seat set for a minor party that aligns itself with the PP would still leave far from its goal of a major victory.
The Socialists are set to take 122 seats, two more than they had. But Sánchez can likely call on the 31 seats of its junior coalition partner Sumar (Joining Forces) and several smaller forces to at least total more than the sum of the right-wing parties.
“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,” Sánchez told a jubilant crowd gathered at Socialists’ headquarters in Madrid.
After his party took a beating in regional and local elections in May, 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.
Even if this goes to a new ballot, 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 Sánchez 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 PP predecessor in 2018.
But Feijóo would probably trade spots with his rival if he could.
Feijóo focused the PP’s campaign not on what he would do as prime minister, but rather as an attack on what he called the last of trustworthiness of Sánchez. The strategy failed. The Socialists and other leftist parties seem to have motivated their voters by drumming up fear of having the anti-feminist, ultra nationalist Vox in power as a junior member of a possible coalition with the PP.
A PP-Vox government would have meant another EU member has moved firmly to the right, a trend seen recently in Sweden, Finland and Italy. Countries such as Germany and France are concerned by what such a shift would portend for EU immigration and climate policies.
The election took place at the height of summer, with millions of voters likely to be vacationing away from their regular polling places. However, postal voting requests soared.
Coming on the tail of a month of heat waves, temperatures were expected to average above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), or 5 to 10 degrees Celsius above normal in many parts of the country. Authorities distributed fans to many of the stations.
“We have the heat, but the right to exercise our vote freely is stronger than the heat,” said Rosa Maria Valladolid-Prieto, 79, in Barcelona.