Spain's latest election resulted in a fragmented parliament, which means an agreement between several parties will be needed to appoint a government. Meanwhile, a far-right party received enough votes to enter Madrid's legislature for the first time in almost 40 years. Together, these two developments confirm that in Spain, like in most of the largest economies in Europe, fragmentation and the growth of anti-establishment parties are disrupting the political landscape.
Spain's ruling center-left Socialist Party (PSOE) claimed victory in the country's general election on April 28. The PSOE won 28.6 percent of the vote and 123 seats in parliament — a gain of 38 seats, but still far below the 176 needed for an absolute majority.
The center-right People's Party (PP) received 16.7 percent of the vote and 66 seats, with the center-right Ciudadanos receiving 15.8 percent of the vote and 57 seats. The left-wing Unidas Podemos (UP) received 14.3 percent of the vote and 42 seats, while the far-right Vox party will enter the Spanish parliament for the first time ever after obtaining 10.2 percent of the vote and 24 seats.
What Happens Next
Because 176 seats are needed to appoint a government, electing Spain's next prime minister will require long negotiations between multiple parties. However, parties are unlikely to make a decision until after the country holds municipal, regional and European elections on May 26, because they will be more interested in campaigning against each other than in cutting deals.
Then, in either June or July, Spain's parliament will begin holding a series of votes of investiture. In the first round, an absolute majority of votes (176) is needed to appoint a new prime minister. But should parliament fail to do so, only a simple majority (more votes in favor than against the new government) will be needed in the proceeding rounds. Abstentions and tactical agreements between parties will, therefore, be key in order to create the next Spanish government, which could take one of several forms:
A centrist coalition: A coalition between the center-left PSOE and the center-right Ciudadanos would control a comfortable majority of 180 seats. But this scenario is improbable because both parties have spoken against such an alliance. Following the election, Ciudadanos has already said that it does not want to negotiate with the Socialists.
A left-wing coalition: A pact between PSOE, UP and small parties from other parts of Spain (excluding pro-independence forces from Catalonia) would control 175 seats — meaning they would need to cooperate with at least one of the Catalan parties to appoint a prime minister. However, in exchange for its support, a Catalan party would probably demand a legally binding independence referendum, which is something that PSOE would oppose.
A right-wing coalition: A government between the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox is also unlikely. Together, these three parties would only control 149 seats. And compared with the PSOE, such a coalition would have an even harder time finding allies in parliament to gain the additional 27 seats needed to appoint a prime minister.
What It Means
The election results underline just how fragmented Spain's political landscape has become in recent years — a trend that correlates with similar developments in many other European countries. Still, the center-left stands a much better chance than the center-right of forming a government — either as a minority government or as a government consisting of multiple parties (both led by the Socialists).
The far-right Vox's entrance into Spanish parliament finally puts Spain in line with many other EU member states, where similar nationalist parties have been in parliament for years.
Such a government would seek dialogue instead of confrontation with separatists in Catalonia. It would also support EU integration — though it would side with France and defend policies to increase spending and risk-sharing in the eurozone, which many in northern Europe will resist.
The far-right Vox will probably not be a part of Spain's next government, which reduces the likelihood of anti-government demonstrations by left-wing, pro-independence and other activist groups. But the fact that a far-right party has entered Madrid's parliament for the first time in almost four decades is nonetheless notable, as it finally puts Spain in line with most other EU member states, where the nationalist right has been in parliament (and in some cases, even in government) for years.