MADRID – Incumbent Pedro Sánchez is set to remain Spain’s prime minister following Sunday’s decision inconclusive national elections in which the centre-right People’s Party won the most votes but lacked a clear path to forming a government.
As expected, none of Spain’s major parties secured a government majority. With 99% of the votes counted, the Popular Party had 136 seats, the Socialists 122, the far-right Vox 33 and the left-wing Sumar 31.
Ahead of the vote, Conservative leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo indicated he would be willing to form a coalition government with Vox, but both parties fell short of the 176 seats needed to control Spain’s parliament.
There is no scenario in which Spanish MPs would support a minority government made up of the Popular Party and Vox, and Feijóo does not appear to have enough support among the country’s smaller regional parties to muster the support he would need for the minority government on his own.
The result opens the door to Sánchez staying in power.
Together with Yolanda Díaz’s left-wing Sumar coalition, the prime minister’s Socialist Party could form a coalition that controls 153 seats in parliament, but to govern, it will have to make deals with a variety of political groups with very different objectives.
Sánchez is unlikely to win the support of the 176 MPs needed to be confirmed as prime minister the first time the new parliament debates the issue, but he could make a bid during the second round of voting, in which the candidate to lead the new government must receive more votes for than against.
In 2019, Sánchez became prime minister on the same schedule after striking deals with regional parties. But in this high-stakes election, voters chose to support larger parties, leading smaller groups like Teruel Existe to lose seats.
This means that the socialists will have to seek the support of Basque and Catalan nationalists, including those belonging to former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont’s Junts party.
Puigdemont fled Spain soon after the 2017 Catalan independence referendum and was subsequently elected to the European Parliament; an EU high court recently stripped him of his legal immunity, paving the way for his extradition to Spain.
Junts’ candidate Míriam Nogueras told the press that her party had « understood the result » and would « use the opportunity ».
« This is a chance for change, to recover unity, » he said. « But we won’t make Pedro Sánchez president for nothing. »
Over 37 million Spaniards registered to vote in this election, which was framed as a referendum on Sánchez. The close race meant the stakes were incredibly high, with Spain facing the possibility of ending up with a government with far-right ministers for the first time since the death of Francisco Franco.
This could have signaled a broader sea change in Europe ahead of next year’s European Parliament elections and fuel right-wing forces who want the EU to take tougher stands on everything from climate policy to migration.
With 33 seats, the far-right Vox party remains the third-largest political group in Spain’s parliament, but this election has seen it shrink from the 52 seats it won in 2019, indicating the group may be losing ground.
At the Socialist Party headquarters in Madrid on Sunday night, euphoric supporters cheered Sánchez as they shouted “¡No pasarán!”, the anti-fascist slogan used by Spain’s legitimate government in its fight against Franco’s forces during the Spanish Civil War.
Despite being held in the height of summer and in the midst of a heat wave, around 24 million Spaniards cast their votes in person, while a record 2.4 million opted to vote by mail.