Spain’s incumbent Socialists came first in national elections Sunday but fell short of a majority in Parliament, while right-wing parties made gains reflecting many voters’ anger about Catalan separatism.
The center-left Socialists of acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez won around 28% of the vote, the country’s interior ministry said, after counting nearly all the votes. This will translate into 120 seats in Spain’s 350-seat Parliament, or three fewer than those obtained in the last elections in April.
The conservative People’s Party came second with 21%, or 87 seats, while the far-right Vox party won 15%, more than doubling its seats to 52. Both right-leaning parties benefited from a backlash against Catalan nationalism in other parts of Spain.
Catalonia’s place in Spain became a central campaign issue after Spain’s highest court on Oct. 14 jailed nine Catalan pro-independence politicians and activists for sedition and other crimes in relation to the region’s illegal independence referendum in 2017.
The jail sentences triggered demonstrations and riots in Catalonia, which in turn hardened attitudes elsewhere against Catalan secessionism.
Spain now faces a struggle to find a workable governing majority in Parliament—a situation that has become increasingly common in recent years.
“The elections haven’t solved anything. They make it even more difficult to reach an agreement because parliament is even more polarized now,” said Antonio Barroso, managing director of political-risk consulting firm Teneo.
Stable majorities have become difficult to assemble in an increasing number of European countries. The growing complexity of societies has steadily eroded the dominance of the old center-right and center-left parties that built today’s Europe. A range of discontents from economics to national identity has created opportunities for political upstarts, from the nationalist far-right to the anticapitalist far-left to environmentalist and anticorruption movements.
The result is that many European countries end up with unwieldy, bickering coalitions that struggle to agree on how to reinvigorate their economies or respond to Europe’s fast-changing geopolitical backdrop.
Elections in Portugal last month also produced no clear winner. The incumbent Socialists of Prime Minister
who has presided over a solid recovery from the eurozone debt crisis, finished first but failed to win an outright majority.
In Italy, an awkward coalition of the antiestablishment 5 Star Movement and the mainstream center-left Democrats is struggling to agree on key economic policies only two months after taking office. Italian politics has been highly fragmented since the eurozone debt crisis pushed the country into a deep slump a decade ago. Opinion polls suggest many voters are ready to turn to the nationalist League when the current government falls.
In the U.K., the two-party system is under pressure ahead of Dec. 12 national elections as voters abandon traditional party allegiances to vote along pro or anti Brexit lines.
Spain’s Mr. Sánchez faces some difficult choices, as he tries to assemble a majority after Sunday’s election result.
“All parties have to act with generosity and responsibility from tomorrow onward to break the impasse in the country,” Mr. Sánchez said in Madrid, thanking supporters.
He is expected to seek the support of left-wing parties, including Unidas Podemos, but relations between the two parties have been tense since talks this summer about forming a government pact failed, triggering snap elections and mutual recriminations.
Mr. Sánchez may also need to court regional nationalist parties, including left-wing separatist Catalans, to reach a majority in Parliament for his government.
His alternative would be to form a pact with the Socialists’ main traditional rival, the center-right People’s Party.
However, the People’s Party gained votes after attacking the Socialists as too soft on Catalonia. The People’s Party also faces a rising new competitor to its right, in the form of Vox, constraining the scope for a deal with the Socialists.
King Felipe VI will start political consultations with the different parties in about a month, after parliament has been constituted and lawmakers have elected a speaker for the house.
After that, the king will propose a prime ministerial candidate who will need to find the support of parliament to form a government.
Write to Giovanni Legorano at email@example.com
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