Right’s failure in Spanish elections return surprise hung parliament


“This was not an outcome the Spanish right – through its powerful press, broadcast and social media presence – was peddling to the public, nor what much of the left had planned for.”

By Alex Colás

Spain’s snap general election yesterday (June 23rd) delivered a surprise hung Parliament. As one commentator noted, rarely has defeat tasted so sweet and victory so bitter.

The right-wing Popular Party (PP) won the popular vote by a marginal 1.35%, with just over 250,000 more votes than its Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) rival, but won’t have enough seats to command an absolute majority in Parliament.

This is because, despite increasing its representation by 47 deputies from the last general election in 2019, the PP’s only ally, the far-right Vox party suffered significant losses, dropping from 52 to 33 representatives and losing over half a million votes compared to the previous national contest.

The Spanish left rightly celebrated last night as a victory because it has blocked the prospect of a hard-right, neo-Francoist party joining a national government. Spain is indeed different. It has bucked the alt-right ascendancy in the rest of Europe.

The results are nonetheless full of paradoxes and at least one familiar certainty.  The Socialist Party did especially well in Catalonia at the expense of left separatists, but the seven deputies from the centre-right independentists, Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), now have the power to facilitate a minority government led by the incumbent premier Pedro Sánchez.

The PP contender, Alberto Núñez Feijóo cries foul, claiming his right to form a Government as leader of largest party in the Spanish Congress, yet the PP built its pyrrhic electoral victory on trashing parliamentary accords with any party other than Vox.

It is very possible that a poll which, for different reasons, was framed by both right and left as a plebiscite on Sánchez’s coalition government leads to parliamentary stalemate and fresh elections this autumn. This is an undesirable prospect for most democrats, since the familiar certainty emerging from last night’s results is that Spain continues firmly and evenly divided along a broadly progressive bloc including Socialist, radical left Sumar and diverse regional nationalists, and a reactionary, big-nation Spanish nationalism on the right, which only parliamentary arithmetic and deliberation can now resolve.

This was not an outcome the Spanish right – through its powerful press, broadcast and social media presence – was peddling to the public, nor what much of the left had planned for. The PP has relentlessly sought to delegitimise Pedro Sánchez’s ‘Frankenstein’ 2019 coalition government for daring to democratically negotiate parliamentary alliances that can secure progressive legislation. 

During the campaign, Núñez Feijóo agreed only to the single one-on-one televised debate with Sánchez (which he won on points), rejecting outright participation in the other multi-candidate debates. This was symptomatic of his party’s belief that electoral victory was a fait accompli; a divine right to rule that even led PP spokespeople to claim they would win an absolute majority, making any agreement with Vox redundant. The consequence was an electoral platform devoid of any serious programme other than to repeal or abolish (‘derogar’) left-wing legislation.

Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists, on the other hand, initially fought a defensive campaign, mainly focusing on the perils of the PP’s coalition with the far right. As the author of a recently released book entitled Resistance Manual, Sánchez has earned a reputation for political risk-taking. Calling the snap poll after the right’s landslide victory in the May local and regional contests was a calculated act of tactical survival which has (just about) paid off electorally.

But the price is lack of strategic, programmatic ambition. The latter is now more likely to come from the other unexpected beneficiaries of last night’s election, namely Yolanda Díaz’s Sumar (‘Add’ or ‘Join-up’), which has stood out among the main parties in offering an extensive and concrete policy programme including shorter working weeks, increased tax on wealth, greater worker and pension protection and ambitious decarbonising initiatives. Despite registering only hours before the formal deadline for submission of candidate lists, the left-of-socialist electoral platform won 31 seats, as against the 35 held by their predecessors Unidas Podemos in 2019.

Born with the legacy of a much-diminished Podemos and the associated infighting for political scraps, Sumar has grown in stature during the campaign, positing itself as a radical left alternative for 3 million voters across much of Spain, roughly the same as Unidas Podemos did at the previous general election. Sumar still lacks a meaningful presence in the rural areas outside the traditionally leftist heartlands of Andalucía, and will now have to manage its precious electoral capital equitably among its many and diverse ideological families.

But faced with the real prospect of political oblivion after the last local and regional elections, Yolanda Díaz and her supporters can rightly be proud of the radical left now still having a chance at building another progressive government in the coming months.

  • Alex Colás is a member of Brent Central CLP.
  • This article was originally published by Labour Hub on July 24th, 2023.
  • The Labour Outlook Editorial Team may not always agree with all of the content we reproduce but are committed to giving left voices a platform to develop, debate, discuss and occasionally disagree.
Featured image: The Palacio de las Cortes in Madrid, where the Cortes Generales, the bicameral legislative chambers of Spain are held. Photo credit: Luis García (Zaqarbal) under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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