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A look into Spain's political limbo

Ines Araguena Aniceto

Following the general election on the 23rd of July, the Spanish Popular Party (PP) has failed to recreate the success the polls forecasted for them in the wake of their triumph in the regional elections.

Although they won 136 seats, and beat the incumbent PSOE’s 122 seats, Alberto Núñez Feijóo remained painfully short of the 176 seats needed for him to become President of the government with an absolute majority. In another interesting turn of events, PP snatched one seat from PSOE after the foreign vote count five days on from the election, taking the party to 137 seats and the right-wing bloc to 172.

It is also worth mentioning that the Spanish electorate flocked to the centre ground, leaving the extreme parties on both ends of the political spectrum with far less seats than they had obtained in the previous general election, and with little leverage over the traditional parties. Indeed, far-right Vox has lost 19 seats since the previous election.

All in all, however, the outcome of the election was far from Feijóo’s expectations – he had hoped to achieve an absolute majority so as not to have to turn to Vox for support. For Pedro Sánchez, on the other hand, the tactic to call a snap election seems to have worked in his favour. All this being said, nothing is set in stone yet in terms of what the next Spanish government will look like.

So, what happens now?

After a period of negotiations, the King of Spain will present a candidate for President of the Government – while it’s not definite, there’s a good chance this will be Feijóo, since he intends to go ahead with the investiture despite his less-than-favourable win. Next, the 350 members of parliament will vote either in favour or against the candidate, who will then either emerge as President with an absolute majority (176 votes or more), or they will not. If the candidate fails to secure an absolute majority, a second round of votes will take place 48 hours later, where the candidate will need only a ‘simple’ majority to govern – that is – over half of the votes cast, excluding abstinences (in other words, getting more yeses than noes).

In my view, the most favourable outcome - albeit the least likely - would be for the members of parliament to support Feijóo’s investiture and allow PP to rule with a simple majority. This would allow the most voted party to govern, while avoiding the need to appeal to extremist parties’ demands for support.

Interestingly, Feijóo has actually proposed this deal to Sánchez on several occasions, suggesting that if one of their parties wins without an absolute majority, the other would facilitate their investiture. The plan, Feijóo noted, would remove the reliance on extremist alliances from the equation.

Unfortunately, asking President Sánchez to abstain is entirely unthinkable right now. Indeed, after the better-than-expected results of the election, Sánchez boldly insinuated that every vote that did not land in the right-wing bloc’s ballot box was actually a vote for PSOE. Whether this was an innocent logical fallacy or a deliberate misrepresentation of the Catalan and Basque separatist voter bases, Sánchez evidently feels optimistic about his chances of renewing his presidency.

The recent turn of events, however, suggest this is misplaced confidence. As well as PP seizing one seat from PSOE following the foreign vote, Vox has offered the support of its 33 members of parliament with no strings attached – that is, they will not demand to govern alongside PP. With the possibility of Vox’s participation in a PP-led government virtually eliminated, CC is open to supporting Feijóo’s investiture, securing another seat for the right-wing bloc. Similarly, UPN has ‘maintained and ratified’ its support for Feijóo. While this is good news for Feijóo, we must not forget that 172 seats is still four short of an absolute majority, and that the left-wing bloc will still block the investiture.

At the same time, losing a seat to PP will likely make Sánchez’s investiture a great deal harder. PSOE could in theory achieve an absolute majority with the support of far-left Sumar and the separatist parties – ERC (Republican Left of Catalonia), PNV (Basque Nationalist Party), BNG (Galician Nationalist Bloc) and EH Bildu (Basque Country Unite) – but only if Junts (Together for Catalonia), also supports his investiture. Had he not lost a seat, the abstention of Junts would have sufficed.

There’s a catch to this support, however. The separatist parties will not help Sánchez into government for free, and their price would be nothing short of hefty for the future of Spain. More specifically, ERC, Junts and EH Bildu’s condition for supporting Sánchez’s investiture is the invocation of two simultaneous self-determination referenda: one in Catalonia, and another in the Basque Country. On top of this, Junts would demand amnesty for their party leader Carles Puigdemont, who was the orchestrator of the illegal Catalonian independence referendum in 2017, and has consequently been a fugitive of justice ever since. Thus far, Sánchez has been clear that the referenda are a red line he is not prepared to cross, and I for one hope that the prospect of losing the presidency will not compel him to sell Spain out to secessionists.

Finally, we also cannot rule out the real possibility of a hung parliament and a second general election if neither candidate emerges with either an absolute or simple majority. As we have seen, the obstacles to both a PP and PSOE-led government are intricate and uncertain, what with neither bloc having enough seats to rule with an absolute majority. As parties enter negotiations, it remains to be seen how Spain will manoeuvre out of this political limbo.

Image: Getty Images

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