Spain: Center left claims victory, but far right gains

The results of this week’s election have left Spain with “one of the most fragmented and difficult-to-manage parliaments in our democratic history,” said El Mundo (Spain) in an editorial. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his center-left Socialist Party—which ousted conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last year with a no-confidence vote in the legislature—emerged as the big winners, taking 123 seats in the 350-seat parliament. That’s 38 seats more than in the last vote in 2016, but still short of a majority. Battered by corruption scandals, Rajoy’s center-right Popular Party won only 66 seats—half its total three years ago—hemorrhaging voters to another center-right party, Ciudadanos, and to the new far-right party, Vox. The leftist, anti-austerity Podemos party also lost voter share. Yet the Catalan separatist party Esquerra Republicana, whose leader Oriol Junqueras is on trial for rebellion for a botched 2017 attempt to secure independence for his region, went from nine seats to 15. Sanchez will likely form a minority leftist government with Podemos, drawing on occasional support from the separatists.

Spain has bucked a Europe-wide “lurch to the populist right,” said Tommy Greene in Independent.co.uk. While center-left parties have slumped elsewhere, Sanchez mobilized voters—turnout was a hefty 76 percent—by spooking them with the prospect of a hard-right government. The rise of the misogynistic, antiimmigrant Vox over the past year has driven Spain’s traditionally center-right parties to extremes. The Popular Party and Ciudadanos had pledged “to reapply direct rule in Catalonia and to roll back freedoms in a neoconservative turn on hard-won rights like abortion.” Had the parties won enough seats, they probably would have made a coalition with Vox, which took 24 seats, becoming the first far-right party in parliament since Spain emerged from fascist dictatorship. Even among Europe’s ugly far-right parties, Vox has distinguished itself with its vicious anti-feminism, said Meaghan Beatley in The Guardian (U.K.). Last year, in response to the acquittal of five men in a gang-rape trial, hundreds of thousands of women marched through Spanish cities in “the largest spontaneous feminist uprising in living memory.” That sparked a “countermovement of aggrieved men,” which Vox has courted with pledges to roll back laws on gender violence.

Sanchez’s victory was about more than fear of the far right, said Ivan Andras in Hungary’s Index.hu. Centrist voters appreciate that he’s racked up some major accomplishments while leading a minority government, including raising the minimum wage and beginning the process of removing ex-dictator Francisco Franco’s remains from a massive mausoleum to a less contentious site. Now he must figure out how to fix Spain’s most pressing problem: the “territorial crisis” in Catalonia, said El País (Spain). That’s what prompted this snap election: Sanchez called it after pro-independence parties refused to back his budget unless he allowed a binding referendum on secession. He needs to win their support without fracturing Spain, or voters could soon find themselves back at the ballot box.