RPT - REVIEW - Political Deja Vu In Spain As Snap Parliamentary Vote Prolongs April's Stalemate

BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 12th November, 2019) With the results of Spain's snap parliamentary election resembling the one's in April, the Spanish Socialist Workers' party (PSOE) of caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez finds itself winning the vote but falling short of an outright majority in even more fragmented parliament than before.

In Spain, where the voter turnout at elections is traditionally one of the highest in Europe, there is usually no need to ask people to vote. Yet, Sanchez made sure to ask the 37 million eligible citizens to "strengthen democracy by voting" on the eve of the election, which could have potentially brought his party to an outright majority for forming a government and put an end to Spain's political crisis. The voter turnout ended up being slightly under 70 percent.

The fourth parliamentary election in Spain in four years developed within a different scenario. Instead, the PSOE won the majority of votes but still not enough to form a government single handedly, just like in April. The difference now is that the party landed in with even fewer seats 120 against 123 in April and amid an even stronger fragmentation of the parliamentary board, with its major rival claiming a triumphant comeback and a far-right party storming into the top three.

The left-leaning camp suffered somewhat of a drawback, with the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos party gaining 35 seats down by 7 and Mas Pais gaining two. The right, at the same time, surged ahead, with the the main opposition People's Party (PP) gaining 88 seats up by 22 the populist Vox gaining 52 up by 28 and the Citizens party gaining 10 down by 47 seats. The latter is already recognized as the most dreadful defeat of these elections, having lost 80 percent of their seats in the parliament.

SURPRIZING RESULTS FROM BOTH LEFT AND RIGHT

Back in April, when the PSOE failed to secure the 176 seats needed for a majority government, it turned to the Unidas Podemos party of Pablo Iglesias for support. Personal enmities between Sanchez and Iglesias seem to have played a decisive role in the failure of the most evident potential coalition in April, although disagreements also evolved around the Catalan independence question and the composition of the future coalition government.

Citizens were being asked to elect 350 members of the congress and 208 senators in an election that surveys showed was likely to yield again a fractured parliament.

Many predicted that the current snap vote would repeat April's results, but few expected such results from certain individual parties and the Right collectively. For example, the center-right and far-right parties could surpass the left in the collective score, or the PP could do better now that its campaign displayed explicitly right-leaning elements, or the left could do better collectively and manage to secure a coalition majority.

Interesting to note is that Iglesias, who is said to have been furious at the way Sanchez treated him during the negotiations in April, declared after casting his vote Sunday morning that his party would "reach out to the PSOE. Any recriminations and reproaches are a thing of the past, we are ready." So the formation of a coalition could be expected, albeit with support of smaller parties, such as the Catalan socialists and Basque nationalists.

But given that the separatist Republican Left of Catalonia the Sovereigntists claimed the highest numbers in Catalonia, they are likely to make sure that their support is priced right by the Socialists, Professor Josep Maria Terricabras of the University of Geron, who previously served as member of the European Parliament for Republican Left of Catalonia pro-independence party, told Sputnik.

"It means that in Madrid, the Catalan parties will make their potential support to a left coalition led by Pedro Sanchez dear to get. Sanchez has shown contempt for the Catalans during the one-week campaign. Catalans will not forget it. If Sanchez needs their support or rather their abstention, he will have to give them something, and what they want is a referendum on independence," Terricabras said.

Surprisingly to many, the far-right Vox stormed into the top parliamentary triad after the PSOE and the PP.

What divided a PSOE-Podemos coalition in April could play into Vox's hand now the party has an adamant stance against any autonomy for Catalonia as long as separatist parties are in power in Barcelona. Vox, with its clearly articulated anti-independence stance on Catalonia, benefited from the turmoil sparked by the Catalan topic in the pre-elections campaign. For weeks, Barcelona and other Catalan cities were shaking to violent public unrest over Madrid's decision to sentence nine pro-independence Catalans to lengthy prison terms last month.

Vox's leader, Santiago Abascal, has received encouragement from the likeminded parties of Marine Le Pen in France, the National Front, and of Matteo Salvini in Italy, the Lega Nord. After voting on Sunday, Abascal said he had "exercised his right to vote amid the affection of the people and with the hope that Spain chose the paths of unity, freedom and harmony."

COALITION OF RIVALS CAN SPARE SPAIN ANOTHER SNAP VOTE, BUT VOX GETS LAURELS ANYWAYS

In pure arithmetic, the three right parties PP, Vox, Citizens cannot form a majority government. The right, spurred by Vox, has been very clear about Catalonia, absolutely refusing any concession to the Catalan independence parties and making it therefore very difficult for any leftist government to attempt to negotiate with the Catalan separatists. Illegal immigration from the middle East and North Africa has also been an issue in the elections, with Vox attacking the previous government's immigration policies and claiming that the connivance to illegal immigrants aggravated crime levels throughout Spain.

"It will be even more difficult to set up a Spanish government after these elections. The Right might try, but they do not have an absolute majority altogether and cannot count on the Basque or Catalan votes. I expect the boss of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, to submit his resignation to his party after his atrocious result. The PP is making a comeback even if it is not what they expected. They wanted to reach 100 seats and will not get more than 85 or a little more. Not a breakthrough, and their score in April was appallingly bad," Professor Josep Maria Terricabras of the University of Geron told Sputnik after the preliminary results of the vote were revealed.

According to the expert, a rightist coalition is still not looming large as Vox's standing might be too right for its potential coalition partners. The most realistic coalition, in the meantime, would be between the two frontrunners and traditional rivals, the PSOE and the PP, thinks Gilles Lebreton, a member of the European Parliament from the National Front party of France.

"In most European countries, the natural tendency would indeed be for the two main parties to form a 'realistic' coalition of the center. Together PP and Socialists would get 208 seats in parliament, much more than the 176 needed for an absolute majority. But that would be very dangerous for the Christian-Democrats of the PP, because Vox would then be considered as the only opposition on the right. Whether on the issues of immigration, or Catalonia, the two 'hot potatoes' of Spanish politics, the PP would permanently be on the defensive and the result would then be another leap forward of Vox at the next general elections. The PP management is acutely aware of this danger for their 're-birth' after the scandals of corruption on a grand scale that hit the PP over the last few years. They will think twice before getting into such an adventure," Lebreton told Sputnik.

Albeit hardly possible, the coalition of rivals might even be pushed for by the Spanish business elite and King Felipe VI, Professor Terricabras opined in a conversation with Sputnik.

"I expect King Felipe and the business community to exert pressure on Pedro Sanchez [PSOE] and Pablo Casado [PP], to 'patriotically' accept some form of minority government, with abstention of the other side, so that Spain is ruled. The population would not accept to vote again in a few months," Terricabras said, continuing "No, I think Sanchez will try his utmost this time to organize a left coalition with Pablo Iglesias and Podemos, but together they only have 155 seats. They need 21 more, and the smaller parties on the left cannot bring that expect for the Catalans."

Vox, in the meantime, realizes well that whatever the outcome, it remains the winning side. Any concessions to the Catalan separatists by the PSOE and Unidas Podemos and it will be unavoidable if they form a coalition will reinforce Vox's reputation, as will another snap vote if no coalition ends up being formed at all, the party's spokesperson, Alonso de Mendoza, told Sputnik.

"The third option for Pedro Sanchez - and he will be put under pressure by the establishment to choose that exit door - is to try and create a grand coalition with the PP But for the PP of Pablo Casado, this would be the kiss of death. It would mean that Vox will be the only party on the right which is in the opposition. We are clear on all main issues that Spain is faced with, and the PP would only lose to Vox at the coming elections," Mendoza said.

The Spanish bicameral parliament, known as the Cortes Generales, gets its 350 deputies elected in a general vote for a four-year term. Since 2017, Spanish politics has been characterized by the end of the bipartite system of the center-right PP and the leftist PSOE, alternating in government. The lack of parliamentary majorities and the inability of politicians to reach governing deals lately have imperiled democracy in Spain. People seem to be completely displeased, as pre-vote surveys suggested that the election would reinforce the fractures in the lower house.