Parliamentary elections this weekend in Spain could see the far-right party win a share of power.
Spain goes to the polls this Sunday. The prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, unexpectedly called an early general election after the parties of the governing coalition—the socialist PSOE and the radical-left Unidas Podemos (United we Can)—suffered a stinging defeat in the regional and local elections in May.
The outcome remains uncertain, including how a July election will affect turnout. Most opinion polls however put Spain’s conservative Partido Popular (PP) in the lead and the national right parties, including the far-right Vox, ahead of the national left parties.
In Spain’s polarised party system, a grand coalition between the two largest parties, the PSOE and PP, is unlikely—the right has made ‘Sanchismo’ a campaigning target. A government of either the right (bloc) or left (bloc) is more plausible. Or parliament could fail to form a government, leading to new elections, as occurred in 2015 and 2019.
Collaboration not new
Today, the PSOE says it would govern with allies to its left. In contrast, the PP is attempting to sway voters to give it enough votes to govern alone and has called on the PSOE to accept that the party with the most votes should govern.
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The PP is likely to need Vox to reach a parliamentary majority or get close to it. If so, the party will need to decide whether it will govern with Vox. A split from the former in terms of some of its leadership and voter base, Vox stresses Spanish nationalism, nativism, ultraconservative social values and a neoliberal economic policy. It is staunchly anti-feminist and advocates dismantling progressive gender and LGBT+ policies.
This would be the first time the PP (and Vox) would make such a decision nationally. Yet collaboration between the party and Vox on governance is not new. It has been common in the subnational arena since Vox’s electoral breakthrough in 2018. This has helped normalise the far-right party as a political actor—as Vox hoped it would.
The subnational elections in May confirmed and hastened changes in Spain’s party system, previously characterised by fierce competition among three national right-wing parties. Now there are only two.
The PP was the big winner, increasing its vote share in the local elections to 32 per cent, from 23 per cent in 2019, and taking control of several regional governments from the left. Vox also increased its share in the local elections and its representation in several regional parliaments—it will now govern in more regions. Once a strong challenger to the PP, the results for Ciudadanos (Citizens) were so poor that the party decided not even to present candidates in Sunday’s election.
On the left, the socialists’ loss in terms of votes was not major. They did however suffer a severe loss of governing power at the local and regional levels. Podemos’ poor electoral performance and the calling of an early national election by Sánchez hastened the formation of Sumar (Join), a new leftist electoral platform launched by the popular minister for labour, Yolanda Diaz, which includes a severely weakened Podemos.
Based on an average of polls, in this weekend’s election the PP is forecast to win around 34 per cent of the vote, followed by the PSOE (28 per cent), Vox (13) and Sumar (13). This would deny the PP a majority in parliament, yet it projects the bloc of national right parties ahead of the national left in seats. While the parliamentary arithmetic is tricky (and a small electoral variance could meaningfully alter it), one of the likely scenarios is that the right bloc could win an overall majority.
Formal agreement signed
The PP has demonstrated a willingness to ally with Vox to govern when necessary, including in Spain’s politically powerful regions. When Vox first entered Spain’s democratic institutions in the 2018 election in Andalusia—the largest region and historically a socialist bastion—it became relevant for determining who would govern. While Vox was not yet interested in governing, the PP brokered a deal in which Vox would support a PP-Ciudadanos minority coalition. The PP saw the arrangement as a way to govern in more places at a time when it was in electoral decline. It signed with Vox a formal agreement cementing their commitment.
Vox was again relevant in the 2019 regional elections, this time in Madrid and Murcia. It still did not prioritise gaining government posts, although it was a more forceful negotiator. While the PP had already accepted Vox as a legitimate ally in Andalusia, Vox pushed Ciudadanos to give it more recognition than the latter preferred. Ultimately, the PP and Ciudadanos secured Vox’s support for minority coalitions of the pair, which the PP called ‘governments of freedom’.
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In all three regions, the PSOE was the lead party and the left refused to provide any support for the formation of right-wing, PP-Ciudadanos governments. Ciudadanos in turn shunned alliances with the PSOE because it then sought to become the lead party on the right. The PP’s willingness, meanwhile, to govern when the PSOE won these elections shows that its current call to let the lead party govern is inconsistent.
No cordon sanitaire
Vox became Spain’s third largest party in the general election in November 2019. A right-wing government, however, was not numerically possible. Instead, the current left minority coalition formed.
After an early election in Castile and Leon in 2022, Vox was ready to govern and for the first time formed a regional coalition with the PP. While negotiations are continuing after the May 2023 regional elections, PP and Vox have formed coalition governments in Valencia and Extremadura, and the new PP executive in the Balearic Islands relies on a programmatic agreement with Vox.
Thus, if circumstances put the right parties in a position to govern Spain after Sunday’s election, there is no cordon sanitaire to be broken on inclusion of the far right. This in a country which suffered nearly four decades of right-wing dictatorship under Francisco Franco until 1975.
Still, Spain’s smaller, regionally-based parties could again be key to governance. If the national right parties come out ahead but do not win a majority or come very close to it, many of Spain’s minor parties would refuse to support a government that contained Vox (or even the PP in some cases). After all, the Spanish-nationalist Vox advocates banning substate nationalist parties and eliminating Spain’s decentralised constitutional arrangements stemming from the democratic constitution of 1978.
Given the salience of territorial and national-identity issues in Spain, particularly in Catalonia and the Basque country, the left parties would have a better chance of cobbling together support from substate nationalist parties, as they have done since 2019.