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Spain at a crossroads

Martin Delfin, Madrid
December 21, 2015

Spanish voters have broken the two-party system by welcoming two new groups to Congress following a tight election. But as Martin Delfín reports from Madrid, the fragmented outcome means more uncertainty than before.

Image: Reuters/S. Perez

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's ruling center-right People's Party (PP) will have to seek support from other opposition parties to stay in government after failing to win an absolute parliamentary majority during an historic general election that splintered Spain's long-held bipartisan system.

The major opposition Socialists (PSOE) and its leader Pedro Sánchez also performed poorly at the ballot box and will need the help from a large group of other leftist parties to be able to form a government

The fragmented results have helped given rise to the anti-austerity Podemos (We Can) party and the liberal Ciudadandos (Citizens) grouping, which will both will make their debuts in parliament as the third and fourth political forces respectively in Spain.

DW graphic showing the spread of seats across parties.
With two new players in parliament, coalition talks could prove tricky

Post-election panorama

The post-election panorama doesn't look good for either the PP or Socialists, who are expected to soon initiate tough talks with Podemos, Ciudadanos and other minor parties to either seek a coalition or, at least, muster enough sideline support to form a new government.

"This is a real mess," Manuel Villoria, professor of political science at Madrid's King Juan Carlos University, told DW. "This fragmentation will only bring great difficulties to the possibility of forming a new government."

If no pacts are hammered out new elections may have to be called in May. But some analysts believe that the Spanish government, which was able to pass next year's budget right before the election, will go on functioning as the political crisis is sorted out.

Speaking to supporters, Rajoy, 60, said that he will try to form a "stable minority government" but offered no details about the discussions that will take place with other groups, including Ciudadanos, which many conservatives see as his best option. But even with Ciudadanos' 40 seats, the PP would still be short of the 176 deputies it will need to carry on governing and would have to seek the support of other minor parties.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, 36, warned that his group would abstain from voting in Congress for any PP or Socialist government.

Socialist secretary general Sánchez, 43, acknowledged that Rajoy will have the first shot at trying to organize a government. In the alternative, Sánchez said, the Socialists would put together "government of leftists" but didn't explain how he intends to come up with a broad coalition that includes Podemos.

people on a street Reuters/S. Vera
If the future was uncertain before the election, the post-election scenario looks anything but positiveImage: Reuters/S. Vera

Coalition to nowhere

But even if the Socialists and Podemos try to form a coalition on their own, they don't have enough votes for parliamentary majority and would have to invite smaller regional parties into the partnership.

Professor Villoria said he didn't see this as a viable option for Spain. "I am inclined to say that a grand leftist coalition would not last long," he said.

But before the night was over, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, 37, announced that he would only support a party that agrees to constitutional reform, which would include guarantees that give Spaniards the right to a government-paid home if the bank takes it away for non-payment and provides a plan for a national recall vote on any prime minister who fails to comply with his campaign manifesto.

Podemos, which grew from a grassroots organization following the massive social protests held across the country four years ago, has demanded substantial changes to the way power-sharing has been held between the PP and Socialists since democracy was restored following the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

More uncertainty than before

Fed up with public corruption and a 22 percent unemployment rate, many Spaniards had said before the race that they were willing to give the two emerging parties a chance to carrying out their pledges to change society and break the long-held bipartisan system.

But the final tally have left many voters concerned about their future.

"This shows that Spain is divided, but changes are needed to the electoral system and the Spanish institutions," 26-year-old María de Lourdes Álvarez told DW, as she monitored the election results with friends at a local bar in Madrid.

Rafael Loma Velásquez, a 32-year-old computer consultant, said he didn't vote in the Sunday's election because he believed it "would have not changed anything."

"There is more uncertainty now than there was a week ago," he told DW.