In a dramatic election result, Spanish voters have turned out in record numbers to elect what is likely to be Europe’s most left-wing government. While the far-right party Vox entered the Spanish parliament for the first time, it was disappointed that its 24 seats were far fewer than it had expected or that polls had predicted.
The Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, increased the Socialist Party’s number of deputies in the 350 seat Cortes from 85 to 123 while the Partido Popular (PP), the dominant right-wing party for decades, lost more than half its seats, dropping from 137 to 66. On the right, the Citizens party were the real victors, increasing from 32 to 57 seats and disputing the leadership of the right with the PP. The future of the young PP leader, Pablo Casado, is now seriously in doubt after only a few months as leader.
On the left, the Unidos Podemos party, which had made a breakthrough into national politics with 71 seats at the 2016 election saw its seat numbers drop to 42 in what was a very disappointing election for the party. However, it remains the most likely coalition partner to allow Pedro Sanchez remain in power.
In a Europe where the advance of the far-right seems at times to paralise the mainstream and where social democracy is being written off as a viable option, these results from Spain show two things: firstly that a social democratic party can make a strong comeback while a far-right party which seemed unstoppable can be contained, if not completely kept on the margins.
As attention turns to the formation of a government by Pedro Sanchez, it will be interesting to watch the demands of Unidos Podemos and the willingness of the Socialists to offer them ministries. What seems very likely is that Sanchez requires them to put a stable government in place, but they will be determined to stamp their mark and offer a recognisably left-wing alternative.
The final bucking of a European tread by the Spaniards was that turnout was one of the highest ever since the country returned to democracy over 40 years ago at just under 76%, almost 6% more than in 2016 and the highest participation since 2004. While early expectations were that the increased turnout would benefit the far-right, in fact it appears that many turned out with the opposite intention, to block its advance.
As Spain moves into municipal and regional elections next month, the Socialists will be hoping to get a bounce from these national results. And as European Parliament elections loom in which the far-right is expected to make major gains, Spain has shown that such an advance is not unstoppable.