Madrid: Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists won Spain’s national election on Sunday but large gains by the upstart far-right Vox party appear certain to widen the political deadlock in the European Union’s fifth-largest economy.
After a fourth national ballot in as many years and the second in less than seven months, the left-wing Socialists held on as the leading power in the national parliament.
With 99.9 per cent of the votes counted, the Socialists captured 120 seats, down three seats from the last election in April and still far from the absolute majority of 176 needed to form a government alone.
The big political shift came as right-wing voters flocked to Vox, which only had broken into Parliament in the spring for the first time.
Sunday’s outcome means there will be no immediate end to the stalemate between forces on the right and the left in Spain, suggesting the country could go many more weeks or even months without a new government. The far-right party led by 43-year-old Santiago Abascal, who speaks of “reconquering” Spain in terms that echo the medieval wars between Christian and Moorish forces, rocketed from 24 to 52 seats.
That will make Vox the third leading party in the Congress of Deputies, giving it much more leverage in forming a government and crafting legislation.
The party has vowed to be much tougher on both Catalan separatists and migrants.
Abascal called his party’s success “the greatest political feat seen in Spain.”
“Just 11 months ago, we weren’t even in any regional legislature in Spain.
Today we are the third-largest party in Spain and the party that has grown the most in votes and seats,” said Abascal, who promised to battle the “progressive dictatorship.”
Right-wing populist and anti-migrant leaders across Europe celebrated Vox’s strong showing.
Marine Le Pen, who heads France’s National Rally party, congratulated Abascal, saying his impressive work “is already bearing fruit after only a few years.”
In Italy, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League party tweeted a picture of himself next to Abascal with the words “Congratulations to Vox!” above Spanish and Italian flags.
And in the Netherlands, anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders posted a photograph of himself with Abascal and wrote “FELICIDADES” — Spanish for congratulations — with three thumbs-up emojis.
With Sunday’s outcome, the mainstream conservative Popular Party rebounded from its previous debacle in the April vote to 88 seats from 66, a historic low.
The far-left United We Can, which had rejected an offer to help the Socialists form a left-wing government over the summer, lost some ground to get 35 seats.
The night’s undisputed loser was the center-right Citizens party, which collapsed to 10 seats from 57 in April after its leader Albert Rivera refused to help the Socialists form a government and tried to copy some of Vox’s hard-line positions.
Sánchez’s chances of staying in power still hinges on ultimately winning over the United We Can party and several regional parties, a complicated maneuver that he has failed to pull off in recent months.
Sánchez called on opponents to be “responsible” and “generous” by allowing a Socialist-led government to remain in charge.
“We extend this call to all the political parties except for those who self-exclude themselves … And plant the seeds of hate in our democracy,” he added, an apparent allusion to far-right and also possibly to separatist Catalan parties.