People pick their ballots before voting at a polling station for Spain's general election, in Madrid, Spain, July 23, 2023. (AP Photo)

Spain in political limbo after snap elections: Who’s the winner?

Spain left behind an important process with the snap elections held on July 23. Elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives would normally take place in December of this year.

Spain left behind an important process with the snap elections held on July 23. Elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives would normally take place in December of this year.

However, when the ruling Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) failed to get the expected results in the local elections held on May 28, 2023, and the opposition right-wing parties won more votes than expected, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called a snap election to avoid further blood loss.

On the other hand, the election results show that neither Sanchez’s party nor the left bloc he leads could reach a sufficient number of deputies to form the government without the need for outside support.

Interpretation of results

The Ministry of Interior announced that the election turnout rate, in which the proportional representation system and the 3% threshold are applied, was 70%. Considering the holiday season and the indifference of Spaniards to daily politics, it can be seen as a very high rate that 70% of 37.5 million voted. More importantly, the center-right party People’s Party (PP), which sent 89 deputies in the previous election and assumed the role of the main opposition, won 136 deputies with 33% of the votes. The ruling party PSOE, which had 120 deputies in the previous election, became the second party by getting 122 deputies with 31.7% of the votes.

The extreme right party Vox continued to be the third largest party despite losing 19 of the 52 seats it previously held and gaining 33 seats. Based on this, Vox missed the opportunity to form a bilateral coalition government with the PP. Sumar, which was named as the government partner of PSOE during the election process, took fourth place with 31 seats. Finally, the Catalonia-based parties Junts, and ERC got seven seats each. The remaining 14 seats for the House of Representatives were shared by other parties. In addition, the representative numbers of the parties that will send Senators to the Senate are as follows: PP 120, PSOE 72 and others 16. These results show that the center-right is the main winner, and the extreme right is the main loser in this election.

In addition to these, none of the parties reached the number of 176 required to form the government alone in parliament. Therefore, a coalition must be formed. There are two parties that can become coalition leaders: PP or PSOE. Among them, PP has lesser chances of forming a government because even if it allies with Vox, the total number of lawmakers would remain at 169. As a result of this, seven more deputies should support the vote of confidence but none is keen to support the PP-Vox coalition. At this point, it should be noted that if the PP-Vox coalition is formed, the extreme right will come to power again in Spain after about half a century.

The other party that can form the government, PSOE, is in a similar situation. Even if PSOE allies with Sumar, the total number of lawmakers remains at 153. In order to form the government, they need the support of 23 deputies from outside. At this point, the PSOE-Sumar duo can form the new government only if they can convince the parties in Catalonia and the Basque regions. However, Junts, supported by former Catalan PM Carles Puigdemont, distanced himself from a possible PSEO-Sumar coalition during the election process and signaled not to take part in a possible government formation after the election. Still, the PSEO-Sumar duo is likely to convince Junts because it is widely believed that another snap election will benefit PP and Vox.

On the other hand, after the official election results are announced in August, new deputies and senators will receive their mandates and a bicameral parliament will open. President King Felipe is expected to hand over the mandate to form the government first to the winner of the election, PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijo. If Feijo fails to form a government or get a vote of confidence from the House, he will have to reinstate the mandate. In this case, King Felipe will have to entrust the task of forming the government to PSOE leader Sanchez. If he cannot form a government too, parliament will be dissolved and another snap election will be held at the end of this year. This scenario may increase political uncertainty in the country.

Far-right weakened but still alive

The right-wing extremist Vox, which won 52 deputies with 15% of the vote in the 2019 general election, was able to get only 33 deputies with 12% of the vote. This primarily points out that the social demand for the extreme right in the country has decreased and voters who voted for the extreme right in the previous election turned to the center-right this time. When the 2019 and 2023 election results are compared geographically, it is seen that PP increased its vote shares in places where Vox lost votes. Therefore, the 2023 elections can be read as an election in which the extreme right weakened and the center-right strengthened.

Although the departure of the extreme right from power is interpreted as a positive development for the future of Spanish and European politics, it should not be forgotten that Vox became the third party as in the previous election. Moreover, despite election ups and downs, the presence of the extreme right has now become a structural reality in Spanish politics. So the extreme right has long ceased to be an anomaly for Spain. For this reason, Vox will continue to exist in the upcoming period and influence both Spanish and European politics.

Future of Türkiye-Spain ties

On the axis of the results on July 23, some inferences can be made about the future of Türkiye-Spain relations. In this context, first of all, it should be noted that Turkish-Spanish relations have been progressing positively for a long time, and there is no serious problem occupying the agenda of bilateral relations. The fact that the executive bodies of the two countries come together frequently keeps dialogue channels open. Also, Spain does not oppose Türkiye’s EU membership, unlike Germany or France. On the contrary, the Madrid administration leads the countries that actively support Türkiye’s EU membership. Moreover, the Madrid administration does not consciously support the terrorist organizations PKK and FETO. Therefore, there is no political agenda that threatens to disrupt bilateral relations. Finally, it should be noted that the two major centrist parties, PP and PSOE, which are expected to lead the new government, do not have an attitude against Türkiye.

Lastly, the total trade volume between Türkiye and Spain has been showing an increasing trend in recent years. Trade volume reached $16.6 billion last year, approaching the target of $20 billion. Türkiye has an advantageous position as it has a surplus of $2.6 billion in trade with Spain, according to last year’s data. The positive impression of the societies of the two countries concerning each other, the positive course of mutual tourism data, and the intensity of professional sports activities between the two countries ensure that the civil ties between Türkiye and Spain remain alive. Based on all of these, it can be easily said that Türkiye-Spain relations will progress on the axis of mutual trust and mutual benefit in the new period, regardless of the structure of the government in Spain.

[Daily Sabah, August 3, 2023]

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