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Socialist Party wins general election but falls short of an absolute majority

Pedro Sánchez took the highest number of seats in Congress, but will need the support of Unidas Podemos and regional parties if he is to form a government

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Pedro Sánchez casts his vote on Sunday.

The Socialist Party (PSOE) of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has won the highest number of seats but fallen short of an absolute majority at the snap general election that was held in Spain on Sunday. With around 95% of the vote counted, the PSOE has won 123 seats while Unidas Podemos – a coalition of United Left and anti-austerity group Podemos – picked up 42. Together, these two parties account for 165 seats, which is below the 176 needed for an absolute majority, meaning Sánchez will need the support of regional parties if he is to govern.

The conservative Popular Party (PP) suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday, losing around 70 seats in Congress to be left with just 66. The center-right party Ciudadanos (Citizens) performed better, winning 57 deputies in Congress. Meanwhile the far-right party Vox took 24 seats in its debut national election. Since Blas Piñar, a far-right politician linked to former dictator Francisco Franco, lost his seat in Congress in 1982, no political party with a similar ideology has set foot in any of the country’s parliaments.

High turnout

Spaniards headed to the polls on Sunday, April 28, for the third time in less than four years to cast their vote in an election dominated by uncertainty. Polls ahead of the election predicted the Socialist Party (PSOE) would win the highest number of seats in Congress but there were doubts as to whether they would have enough seats to form government. A number of factors were tipped to shift the political landscape in Spain, most importantly the rise of the far-right party Vox, which made shock gains at the regional elections in Andalusia in December.

In the face of this fractured outlook, Spaniards poured into polling stations across the country, with voter turnout at around 75% – 8.5 percentage points more than the 2016 polls. The turnout was particularly high in Catalonia, where the independence drive has deeply divided the region. The rise was most notable in inland areas in Catalonia that are the strongest supporters of independence.

Vox had targeted the breakaway region during its election campaign, promising to get rid of Spain’s current system of devolved regional powers.

In two televised debates ahead of the election, PP leader Pablo Casado and Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera also promised to take a hardline approach on the separatist movement. In early April, sources close to Casado said he would apply Article 155 of the Constitution, a measure that gives the central government emergency powers to suspend Catalonia’s autonomous powers, if he won the election and achieved an absolute majority in the Senate.

“For a free and equal Spain where we recover social harmony and never have to see again how even the leader of the opposition is denied a handshake.”

The tense situation over the issue of Catalan independence led to two incidents at polling stations in the region. In the first, an electoral official refused to shake the hand of Inés Arrimadas, a candidate in Barcelona for center-right party Ciudadanos.

“Due to things like this, with each minute that passes, we more urgently need #MorePPMoreSpain. This is intolerable. They will not defeat us. All our support for Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo”

And in the second, Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo, a candidate for the PP in Barcelona, was blocked by several people from entering a polling station in Montcada i Reixac, and confronted as she left.

Aside from these incidents, voting went ahead largely without issues. According to the National Police, 92,000 officers were on duty on Sunday to ensure the smooth running of the polls.

Mobilization of the left

In the lead up to the election, Prime Minister Sánchez warned voters that there was “a real risk that the right could join with the far right” in a bid to reduce voter apathy, which was one of the factors behind the Socialists’ defeat at the Andalusian regional election.

Susana Díaz, the former regional premier of Andalusia who was ousted from power in December thanks to an agreement between the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox, warned on election day that “when the left doesn’t mobilize, the right wins.”

Images of Vox’s large-scale campaign rallies fed progressive fears about the possibility of seeing the far right in government again in a country where this ideology was in power via a dictatorship until 1976, and where many people thought it had since died out.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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