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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Uehara

Political Disagreements Force Spain into a State of Government Limbo

Pedro Sanchez stands behind white podium with the words "50 anos" written in red and green across the front. The silhouettes of heads are in the foreground.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez faces an intense election against conservative cadidate Alberto Núñez Feijóo (PES Communications, Flickr)

On July 23, Spanish voters headed to the polls for a snap general election called unexpectedly by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Since then, neither party has won enough seats in the Congress of Deputies to declare victory. Candidates Pedro Sánchez of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and Alberto Núñez Feijóo of the People’s Party (PP) now race to win the majority.

The Elections

Sánchez calling a snap election surprised many, as the PSOE did not perform as well during the previous election as expected. However, the election went poorly for the PP as well, so it remains uncertain who will come out on top this year.

According to the Spanish Constitution, a candidate needs the approval of the Congress of Deputies to form a new government. In other words, they must win 176 votes in the 350-member assembly.

Spain has four major political parties: the conservative People’s Party (PP), the far-right Vox Party, the hard left party Sumar, and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). To gain a majority, Sánchez will have to unite the Sumar and PSOE parties, winning him 153 of the 176 seats necessary to win. For Feijóo to win, he must unite the PP and Vox parties, which would win him 169 of the 176 seats. However, both candidates will need support from smaller parties to gain a complete majority.

If two months pass without either candidate being able to form a government, the Congress will be dissolved and new elections conducted. With neither candidate able to create a 176-member coalition, this is becoming an increasingly probable reality. However, until a candidate is elected, Spain faces several limitations. For example, no new general state budget can be approved, meaning the previous year’s will have to be rolled over. In addition, major bills cannot be sent to Congress or the Senate for approval. Finally, no significant changes can be made to Spain’s international policies.

A Tactical Victory for Pedro Sánchez

On August 17, PSOE candidate Francina Armengol was selected as Speaker of the Congress of Deputies. Armengol managed to gain the support of six smaller parties to win a slim majority. One of these parties, the Junts per Catalunya, is a radical separatist party led by the self-exiled former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont. The party had not previously supported Sánchez or the PSOE, but with his current aspirations, Sánchez will likely need to win over their votes. However, it is unsure what he can offer the party in return. The Junts per Catalunya’s primary demand is a referendum on Catalan independence, but such a move would be a clear violation of the Spanish Constitution.

To gain the Junts’ support, Armengol agreed to promote Catalan and other regional languages. She also agreed to investigate the alleged spying on Catalan leaders by Madrid. Sánchez will likely have to make similar concessions, but the future between the two parties remains uncertain.

Still, Armengol’s victory also represents a significant victory for Sánchez. If the Junts had not supported Armengol, it would have likely killed Sánchez’s leadership ambitions and condemned Spain to a new set of elections. However, the PSOE’s ability to cooperate with smaller parties like the Junts per Catalunya bodes well for Sánchez as he forms his coalition.

Into the Future

If the PP/Vox coalition wins, the country’s foreign policy will probably become more conservative. For example, Spain would likely adopt a stricter stance towards Morocco and reverse its decision to accept Western Sahara’s autonomy plan. Spain would also likely begin supporting Ceuta and Melilla, two autonomous cities in Northern Africa, which could lead to the restoration of relations with Algeria and the return of its natural gas supplies. Feijóo also wishes to strengthen ties with Latin America and drop “feminist” foreign policy orientations.

Besides diplomatic changes, a PP/Vox victory could also shift the country right socially. Throughout his campaign, Feijóo repeatedly expressed a desire to repeal gender equality and LGBTQ+ protection legislation. His party program also includes proposals to use the navy to block incoming migrant boats as well as a plan to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, among other international climate accords. While nothing is certain, and both parties are still struggling to form a winning coalition, with so much political and social strife surrounding it, this election is quickly turning into one of the most consequential elections in Spanish history.



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