I walked into the packed bar in Malasaña, a district of Madrid famous for the hedonistic, post-Franco ‘Movida’ movement of the 70’s and 80’s. Every table was full with people chatting intensely over short glasses of beer and bowls of olives. I weaved through to find my friend. “They’re all talking about the same thing.” Moises exclaimed as he stood up to greet me, “What’s going to happen next?”
No Clear Winner
The results of the General Election in Spain on December 20th 2015 provided no clear winner. The incumbent conservative PP won the most votes, but not enough for a majority required to form government and 64 fewer seats than last time around. The main opposition party, PSOE, came second in the vote – although they won a historically low number of seats. Podemos, the anti-austerity party led by Pablo Iglesias, were hailed for causing the biggest impact on the Spanish political landscape with 20.7% of the total vote. The results of centre-right party Ciudadanos were tainted somewhat by exaggerated media expectations and when they emerged with 29 seats fewer than Podemos it was seen as a disappointment. However, both newcomers made considerable gains given that neither ran in 2011.
Coalition or Re-Election?
We can see from the graph above that 176 seats are required to form a majority government, so neither of the more ‘natural’ combinations of the PP and Ciudadanos or Podemos and the PSOE is possible. A broad left-wing government is possible if the PSOE and Podemos were able to join together with a selection of smaller parties shown here as ‘IU’ and ‘Others’. Another coalition possibility, and that most favoured by establishment powers and economic elites, is a so-called ‘Grand Coalition’ between the PP and PSOE. However, if the PSOE were to form a coalition with the PP, they may face a similar demise to the Lib Dems over recent years in Britain. In this case Podemos could foreseeably fill the principal opposition void left behind.
The alternative to any of the proposals above are re-elections. Several senior PSOE and PP politicians have already accepted that a re-election will take place. However, this is a risk for them since Podemos were on the rise in the weeks leading to the election and could grow further still in the event of a re-election, especially if they allied with the leftist Izquierda Unida party (‘IU’ in the graph above).
What’s going to happen?
The country is in political stalemate. The PSOE are, at present, not willing to join with the PP or Ciudadanos on account of ideological differences. Nor are they willing to join with Podemos by compromising on their stance against a Catalan referendum.* The indecision will continue for weeks to come. And, even then, who’s to say that an agreement will be reached.
The long term survival of the PSOE might depend on joining with Podemos in a coalition government. Similarly, Podemos need to capitalize now on the crisis of legitimacy of the traditional political regime; otherwise the wave of welcome change they’ve introduced might dissipate into a temporary revolt against bipartisan hegemony in Spain.
The kind of pragmatic negotiations that took place behind closed doors during the transition to democracy in 1975 may prove vital to fulfilling the hopes of many Spaniards and bringing about a new, fairer Spain.
* Many citizens of Catalonia, a highly industrialised and populous region in North-East Spain that accounts for a fifth of the country’s economic output, desire the right to vote on their independence, much like in Scotland.
Below are some photos I took to capture the mood in Madrid on 29/12/15: