Spanish Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez earned his first general election win on Sunday, despite the emergence of a hard-Right party that capitalised on many Spaniards’ fury with the government’s attempt to find common ground with the breakaway region of Catalonia.
On high turnout of close to 76 per cent, the Socialist party (PSOE) claimed victory for the first time since 2008 with 123 seats out of 350, although a delicately hung parliament means that forming a government will involve complex negotiations with other forces from the Left and regional parties.
With more than 98 per cent of the vote counted, the PSOE was declared winner by Spanish government spokeswoman Isabel Celaá.
“We have sent a clear message to Europe and the world: you can beat authoritarianism and involution from the left,” Mr Sánchez said in reference to his victory over his conservative opponents including the anti-immigration, populist force Vox.
Vox became the first hard-Right force to gain significant representation in Spain’s parliament since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 with 24 seats.
With the vote on the Right side of the spectrum split three ways, the biggest loser of the night was the main conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), falling to 66 seats, less than half of the 137 seats it achieved when winning the previous election in 2016.
The liberal Ciudadanos came close to pipping the PP to second place, with 58 seats.
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Vox came from a result of 0.2 per cent in 2016 to win 10 per cent, but it had the effect of cannibalising the Right-of-centre vote and helping Mr Sánchez to stretch out his lead. Together, the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox won 43 per cent, one point more than PSOE and Podemos combined.
The PP, Ciudadanos were hoping to combine with Vox for a majority to eject Mr Sánchez from power in order to crack down on Catalonia’s separatist leaders by suspending the region’s autonomy.
The three parties had accused Mr Sánchez of being a danger to Spanish unity after he used his 10-month-long spell in government before the election to seek a negotiated end to the impasse between Madrid and Catalonia’s regional government.
But Vox’s secretary general, Javier Ortega, was exultant over the result. “This is just the beginning,” he told supporters in Madrid’s Margaret Thatcher square. “Every Vox member of Congress is going to be a whirlwind.”
Pablo Iglesias, the leader the hard-Left Podemos, offered his party’s 42 seats to “build a leftist government coalition”. But Mr Sánchez will also have to seek support from Basque nationalists and other minority forces, possibly including Catalan pro-independence parties in order to reach a majority.
Divisions over how to deal with Catalonia’s bid for independence played out in an ill-tempered campaign with the trial of 10 imprisoned Catalan leaders over their role in the region’s unconstitutional referendum in 2017 rumbling on in the background.
Mr Sánchez was described by Vox as “an enemy of the nation” for negotiating with Catalan forces, while PP leader Pablo Casado accused the prime minister of siding with “bloodstained hands” after the government received parliamentary support from Basque party Bildu, regarded as the successor to the political wing of terrorist group Eta.
The party leaders clashed in fractious televised debates. Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera described Mr Sánchez as a “disgraceful” prime minister for kneeling before Catalan separatists, while the latter took his Right-wing opponents to task over their Andalucian government’s rollback of assistance for women victims of male violence.
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