MADRID — If you thought Spain’s political drama would end with Sunday’s national elections, think again.
He inconclusive national vote it resulted in a divided parliament without a clear ruling majority. The center-right Popular Party won the most votes but does not have enough seats to form a government on its own or even with the far-right Vox party, its preferred coalition partner.
On Sunday night, the conservative leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo He said he would try to form a minority government and demanded that “no one be tempted to blockade Spain.”
Feijóo argued that the country has always been governed by the leader who gets the most votes and insisted that the future government must be “in line with the electoral victory.”
But in parliamentary democracies like Spain, the head of government is not necessarily the person who gets the most votes in elections, but the one who can ensure the support of the majority of the deputies — and right now Feijóo does not have the necessary support to make his candidacy for prime minister viable.
The socialist leader and current Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, for his part, has a possible, albeit extremely complex, path to victory.
Sánchez’s Socialists and their preferred partners, Yolanda Díaz’s left-wing Sumar coalition, control 153 seats in parliament. While left-wing allies are unlikely to win the backing of the 176 deputies needed for Sánchez to be confirmed as prime minister the first time the new parliament votes on the issue, they could make an offer during the second round of voting, in which the candidate to lead the new government must receive more yeses than noes.
But Sánchez will have to act quickly to show that his bid to remain in power is realistic.
A rest, then a visit with the king.
After a grueling campaign characterized by ugly personal attacks, everyone needs a breather. Therefore, it is good that Spain’s parliament meets again on August 17, when parliamentarians will be sworn in.
But once parliament is back in session, Sánchez will have a real initial hurdle to overcome.
In the days after the start of the new parliamentary session, King Felipe VI of Spain will convene the leaders of the political groups for consultations at the Palacio de la Zarzuela and will ask them who they think has the most support to form a government.
Feijóo will press his case and insist that as the leader of the party that received the most votes, he should be named as the candidate for the next prime minister.
While Spain’s prime minister has so far always been the politician who got the most votes in elections, Pablo Simón, a political scientist at Madrid’s Carlos III University, said the king’s responsibility would be to entrust the formation of a new government to any leader who can show he has the backing to overcome key investiture votes in Spain’s parliament.
“The king is cautious and will follow the rules established in the constitution,” Simón said. “In other words, he will order a government of the person whose candidacy is viable.”
So Sánchez will need to ensure that when he shows up at the Palacio de la Zarzuela, he does so with a convincing list of supporters, preferably several other party leaders who openly indicate their willingness to back his candidacy.
If Sánchez is successful and the king nominates him as a candidate to be the next president of the Government of Spain, the incumbent will have several weeks to negotiate with possible sponsors.
In 2019, Sánchez managed to form the first left-wing coalition government in Spain by Striking agreements with regional parties who supported his candidacy for parliament in exchange for concessions in the form of infrastructure such as new railways or hospitals.
But in these high-stakes elections, voters chose to support the largest parties, and smaller ones like the Teruel Existe citizen movement, which was key to Sánchez’s victory in 2019, lost their seats in parliament.
On this occasion, Sánchez will need Basque and Catalan separatist groups such as EH Bildu and Esquerra Republicana de Cataluña to vote in favor of his candidacy. He will also have to convince Junts, the party founded by the former Catalan president. Carlos Puigdemont — so as not to vote against him.
Although Sánchez’s left-wing coalition government has tried to mend ties and take a softer approach with Catalan separatists for the past four years, relations are less than ideal.
Puigdemont, who fled Spain immediately after 2017 Catalan independence referendum, remains in self-imposed exile in Belgium. The politician, who is currently a member of the European Parliament, recently stripped of legal immunity by a higher EU court, paving the way for his extradition to Spain.
On Sunday, the Junts candidate, Míriam Nogueras, told the press that her party had “understood the result” and that she would “seize the opportunity”.
But he noted that negotiations with the Socialists would not be easy and that a positive outcome was not certain.
“This is a possibility of change, of recovering unity,” he said. “But we will not make Pedro Sánchez president in exchange for nothing.”
What’s next for Sánchez and Feijóo
If Sánchez is asked to form a government but does not win the required support in parliament, Spain will head to a new election.
The king is obliged to dissolve the legislative body two months after the first failed investiture vote and a new vote must be held 54 days after the end of the legislature, so that the Spanish would go to the polls again at the end of this year or, more likely, at the beginning of 2024.
During that long period, Sánchez would remain as interim prime minister. with limited powers: New laws cannot be adopted except in emergencies.
But while Sánchez is on track to remain Spain’s prime minister for the foreseeable future, what’s next for Popular Party leader Feijóo is less clear.
Before the elections, Ayuso, very popular among the voters of the Popular Party, implicit his support for Feijóo’s leadership was linked to his winning these elections.
Despite getting the most votes, whether Feijóo accomplished his mission now may be a matter of opinion.