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Why a Fresh General Election in June is Unlikely to Rouse Spain from Its Political Siesta

Written by Nathan Jones.

Spain faces another general election just six months after the previous one failed to produce a clear result, and negotiations to form a coalition failed.  Pedro Sánchez, the leader of Socialist Party (PSOE) and Alberto Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos, attempted to form a coalition government, but were not supported by the Partido Popular, Podemos, or the vast majority of the smaller parties.  The disagreements between the main parties could not be resolved, owing to the unwillingness of the leaders of these parties to cross their red lines to establish any alternative coalition to be voted on, thus leading to parliamentary paralysis and the need for another election.  This article identifies the challenges facing each of the main four parties and explains why it is unlikely that the electoral landscape after the fresh election will look significantly different to the previous composition of the parliament.

As was the case after last year’s election, polling shows that the Partido Popular (PP) is again likely to emerge as the largest party, gaining almost the same percentage of the vote and number of seats as it obtained in December.  Rajoy, the acting Prime Minister and leader of the PP, believes that, as leader of the largest party, he has the mandate to continue as prime minister, at the head of a grand coalition comprising the PP, PSOE, and possibly Ciudadanos.  He declined, however, the invitation of King Felipe to form a government after the 2015 election because no other party was willing to support him.  This is because of the issue of corruption, which has plagued Rajoy and senior figures of the PP in recent years, and this will remain the challenge for the party going into the next election in June.  Other party leaders remain strongly opposed to forming a coalition with Rajoy, owing to the corruption scandals dogging his premiership, yet his party remains steadfast in support of their leader.  It seems inconceivable that Rajoy could be replaced as leader of the PP, leading to the prospect of the largest party once again being unable to take the initiative in trying to establish a coalition.  Rajoy’s best chance of continuing as prime minister is, therefore, as head of a minority government, supported by smaller regional parties on a supply and demand basis, but such an outcome is unlikely if the results turn out to be similar to those of December 2015.

The need for a new election is a significant challenge for the PSOE.  Polling suggests that the party’s vote share will fall, making it difficult to retain the number of seats obtained in December.  In view of the fact that this figure was already at an historic low, further losses would complicate the PSOE’s chances of forming the next government, even though it is almost certain to remain the second largest party.  The problem facing Sánchez is that the closer to the centre he places the party, the greater the danger that voters on the left will defect to Podemos; while a move to the left alienates more centrist voters who may well turn to Ciudadanos.  In addition, the PSOE is still trying to regain the economic credibility which it lost through its mismanagement of the Spanish economy during the financial crisis.  As a result, the PSOE will again need to consider forming a coalition with either Podemos or Ciudadanos.  A coalition with the former, however, is dubious, owing to the previous negotiations having collapsed as a result of disagreement over the Podemos’ austerity policy and its demand for Cabinet positions, while the possibly of a coalition with the latter appears to have diminished, thus increasing the probability of another parliamentary stalemate.

Podemos is considered to be the party most likely to lose out in June.  Some voters blame the party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, for the failure of the parties to form a government.  There are also concerns about the inability of Podemos to form a coalition of the left by choosing not to ally with Izquierda Unida and not recognising that Pedro Sánchez would have had to lead a coalition between Podemos and PSOE.  Podemos could, therefore, see a fall in its share of the vote, and could drop to fourth place, but it is still likely to gain sufficient seats to be influential.  As a result, the extent to which it is prepared to compromise with other parties of the left will be crucial, especially in relation to any alliance with Izquierda Unida.  This is because polling indicates that, as a coalition, they could move above the PSOE into second place in terms of the vote share.

Ciudadanos, in contrast to Podemos, is likely to be the party which gains the most from this new election.  Polling suggests that it could challenge Podemos for third place, which is potentially significant, since Ciudadanos could form a coalition either with the PSOE or the PP, placing its leader, Alberto Rivera, in the potential role of ‘king maker’.  The difficulty for Ciudadanos is that the most logical coalition would be with the PP, but Rivera currently remains opposed to doing a deal with Rajoy.  Another attempt to join forces with the POSE, meanwhile, is unlikely to have the numbers to form a government without significant backing from other parties, and there remains little sign that such support is likely to be forthcoming.  As a consequence, Ciudadanos will still be frustrated in its ambitions, unless Rivera is willing to shift his stance on negotiating with Rajoy.

Considering none of the four parties appears likely to have the necessary seats to form a minority government, it is almost guaranteed that there would have to be another round of negotiations after the election in June to form a coalition.  In view of the fact that the parties have, thus far, shifted little in terms of their policy preferences and red lines, the chances of Spain forming a government remain as challenging as they were after December’s election, and consequently, Spain’s political siesta looks set to continue well into the summer and beyond.

Dr Nathan Jones obtained his PhD from the University of Nottingham and is currently and independent researcher and tutor of European Union and Spanish Politics. Image credit: CC by Elliot Brown/Flickr.

Published inEUEuropean Politics

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