Conservatives are largest bloc in Spanish elections - but no clear route to a government with almost all votes counted

23 July 2023, 23:19

There is no clear route to a new Spanish government being formed - as the Conservatives and far-right party Vox have not gained enough seats to rule in coalition
There is no clear route to a new Spanish government being formed - as the Conservatives and far-right party Vox have not gained enough seats to rule in coalition. Picture: Getty

By Chay Quinn

Spain is in political limbo tonight - after its election results showed no clear route to a government being formed despite conservative party Partido Popular (PP) winning the most seats.

PP, on 136 seats, and far-right party Vox, with 33 seats, are collectively set to win 169 seats in the parliamentary elections - short of the 176 required to take control of the government.

With 97% of the vote in, the ruling Socialist party is set to take 122 seats, and its potential coalition partner Sumar is set to win 31.

Read More: Voters brave the heat as Spain holds early general election

This result, if confirmed, will leave Spain in limbo as political negotiations between parties ensue - with the likely result being a new election to take place in the coming months.

Polls in Spain’s mainland and the Balearic Islands closed at 6pm local time. Polls on the Canary Islands remained open for one more hour due to the archipelago falling in a different time zone.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is trying to win a third consecutive national election since taking power in 2018. But his Socialists and the other party in his leftist coalition took a beating in regional and local elections in May.

The mainstream conservative Popular Party led most polling during the campaign and is hoping that its first national victory since 2016 could let candidate Alberto Nunez Feijoo unseat Mr Sanchez. But it may need the help of the far-right Vox party to do so.

Such a coalition would have returned a far-right force to the Spanish government for the first time since the country transitioned to democracy in the late 1970s following the nearly 40-year rule of dictator Francisco Franco.

Spanish far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal (L) and Vox party Secretary General Ignacio Garriga greet supporters as they arrive to deliver a speech after Spain's general election
Spanish far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal (L) and Vox party Secretary General Ignacio Garriga greet supporters as they arrive to deliver a speech after Spain's general election. Picture: Getty
The leader and candidate of conservative Partido Popular (People's Party) Alberto Nunez Feijoo waves as he addresses supporters from a balcony of the PP headquarters in Madrid
The leader and candidate of conservative Partido Popular (People's Party) Alberto Nunez Feijoo waves as he addresses supporters from a balcony of the PP headquarters in Madrid. Picture: Getty

Voters braved soaring summer temperatures to cast ballots in the election for 350 members of the lower house of Parliament. Near-final results were expected at midnight.

A PP-Vox government would mean 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 mean for EU immigration and climate policies.

Spain’s two main leftist parties are pro-EU participation. On the right, the PP, led by Mr Feijoo, is also in favour of the EU. Vox, headed by Santiago Abascal, is opposed to EU interference in Spain’s affairs.

Socialist Workers' Party leader and current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez greets supporters outside the party's headquarters in Madrid
Socialist Workers' Party leader and current Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez greets supporters outside the party's headquarters in Madrid. Picture: Alamy

The election comes as Spain holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Mr Sanchez had hoped to use the six-month term to showcase the advances his government had made. An election defeat for Mr Sanchez could see the PP taking over the EU presidency reins.

Mr Sanchez was one of the first to vote, casting his ballot in a polling station in Madrid.

Commenting later on the large number of foreign media covering the election, he said: “This means that what happens today is going to be very important not just for us but also for Europe and I think that should also make us reflect.”

“I don’t want to say I’m optimistic or not. I have good vibrations,” Mr Sanchez added.

The Socialists and a new movement called Sumar that brings together 15 small leftist parties for the first time hope to pull off an upset victory. Sumar is led by second Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, the only woman among the top four candidates.

Ms Diaz called for everyone to vote, recalling that the freedom to vote didn’t always exist in Spain.

“A lot is at risk,” said Ms Diaz after voting. “For people of my generation, they are the most important elections.”

At stake is “waking up tomorrow with more rights, more democracy and more freedom”.

The election was taking place at the height of summer, with millions of voters likely to be holidaying away from their regular polling places. However, postal voting requests soared before Sunday.

With no party expected to garner an absolute majority, the choice is basically between another leftist coalition and a partnership of the right and the far right.

Poll favorite Mr Feijoo said: “It is clear that many things are in play, what model of country we want, to have a solid and strong government.”

Vox’s Abascal said he hoped for “a massive mobilisation (of voters) that will allow Spain to change direction.”

Alejandro Bleda, 45, did not say who he voted for but indicated that he was backing the leftist parties. “Given the polarisation in this country, it’s to vote either for 50 years of backwardness or for progress,” he said.

The main issues at stake are “a lot of freedoms, social rights, public health and education,” Mr Bleda said after voting in the Palacio de Valdes public school polling station in central Madrid with his wife and child.

Voters are to elect 350 members to the lower house of Parliament and 208 members to the Senate.

Carmen Acero, 62, who voted for the Popular Party, compared Mr Sanchez to Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and said she voted because “to continue with Pedro Sanchez is hell”.

Ms Acero, who sported a Spanish flag on her phone, accused Mr Sanchez of being an “assassin” for allying with the small Basque regional party Bildu, which includes some former members of the now-defunct armed separatist group, ETA.

Downtown restaurant patrons dining as early election polls are televised on July 23, 2023 in Benidorm, Spain.
Downtown restaurant patrons dining as early election polls are televised on July 23, 2023 in Benidorm, Spain. Picture: Getty

She identified “the unity of Spain, employment and security” as among her main concerns.

The government said that all polling stations were running as normal.

A fire in a tunnel forced the suspension of all trains entering and leaving the eastern city of Valencia, indicating many people there might not make it to their voting station.

Coming on the tail of a month of heatwaves, temperatures are expected to average above 35C and to rise between 5C and 10C above normal in many parts of the country on Sunday. 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.

Mr Sanchez’s government has steered Spain through the Covid-19 pandemic and dealt with an inflation-driven economic downturn made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But his dependency on fringe parties to keep his minority coalition afloat, including separatist forces from Catalonia and the Basque Country, and his passing of a slew of liberal-minded laws may cost him his job.

The right-wing parties dislike everything about Mr Sanchez, saying he has betrayed and ruined Spain. They vow to roll back dozens of his laws, many of which have benefited millions of citizens and thousands of companies.

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