Spain faces uphill struggle to form government after polls
Spain faced an uphill struggle to form a stable government Monday following elections that saw the incumbent conservatives win the most seats but without an absolute majority, tailed by the Socialists and upstart, far-left Podemos.
For more than 30 years, the Popular Party (PP) and Socialists had alternated power but millions of Spaniards exasperated with austerity measures and repeated corruption scandals voted relative newcomers Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos into third and fourth place.
While it took the largest share of the vote, the PP lost its absolute majority in parliament and will now have to form an alliance with other parties to lead the country, attempt to rule as a minority government — or get booted out altogether.
The results of the most-closely fought elections in modern history create huge uncertainty for a country only just starting to recover from a devastating financial crisis, and the Spanish stock market slumped 2.5 percent at the start of trading.
– Weeks of uncertainty –
As the country awoke to a new political reality, reaction was subdued with the PP struggling to savour the bitter taste of its victory, the Socialists (PSOE) assessing the damage of their worst result in modern history and the two upstart parties reflecting on their strategy.
In a bid to soothe concerns, incumbent prime minister and PP leader Mariano Rajoy said early Monday he would strive to form a government, standing on top of a tall, blue podium in Madrid marked “Gracias” (“Thank you”) and speaking down to cheering supporters.
“Spain needs a government that has the support of parliament,” the 60-year old said.
The polls cap a year of electoral change in southern Europe after Syriza swept to power in Greece in January and a coalition of leftist parties in Portugal pooled their votes in parliament to unseat the conservative government after an inconclusive election in October.
Sky-high unemployment, inequality, corruption and an ever-rising separatist drive in Catalonia were just some of the issues at stake in a country deeply scarred by the crisis and fed up with what many considered a staid political scene.
Official results showed Spain’s ruling PP obtained 123 seats — 63 less than in 2011 when it roared to victory with an absolute majority — with 28.7 percent of the votes.
The PSOE followed with 90 seats and 22 percent of the vote, then Podemos with 69 seats and 20.6 percent, and finally centrists Ciudadanos got 40 seats or nearly 14 percent.
The results mean the parliament will be constituted of four main groupings of significant clout, as opposed to the usual PP and Socialists tandem — putting an end to the country’s traditional bi-party system.
“This result will… likely usher in weeks of political uncertainty, as the various parties try to hammer out a working arrangement in a country that has a limited history of multi-party government,” said Eurasia Group analyst Federico Santi.
Even if left-wing and right-wing parties group together — the Socialists with Podemos or PP with Ciudadanos — neither would be able to govern with an absolute majority.
One outcome could be a coalition between the Socialists, Podemos and Ciudadanos in order to lock out the PP and bring about a government of “change”, though any three-way negotiations would be extremely complicated.
With the support of regional separatists from Catalonia, the Basque country and the Canary Islands, the left-wing bloc would be able to push itself over the 176 needed for a majority.
After holding talks with the leaders of each party that has won seats in parliament, King Felipe VI, the head of state, will nominate a prime minister.
The nominated leader must then win a vote of confidence in the assembly in order to take office — a process that can drag on.
If there is still a deadlock within two months of the first vote, the king must call new elections.
– ‘New political era’ –
Rajoy had positioned himself as a safe pair of hands who dragged the country away from economic collapse when he took power in 2011 and put it on the path of recovery.
But unemployment remains stubbornly high at more than 21 percent.
During the campaign Rajoy’s rivals also pointed to glaring inequalities brought on by his drastic spending cuts, tax rises and health reforms — and none more so than pony-tailed, 37-year-old Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.
“We are starting a new political era in our country,” he gushed on Sunday as supporters looked on holding purple balloons to match the colours of the party at a rally following the announcement of the results.