A good result for the Sanchez’s Socialists
The Spanish election result provides a much needed fillip to Socialist/Social Democrat parties n the EU which have suffered severe setbacks in the last two years – for different reasons – in France, Italy, Germany and other countries. The Socialists (PSOE) who had formed a minority government under Pedro Sanchez since June 2018 when the Popular Party (PP) government had lost a confidence vote following the conviction of leading PP officials for corruption. Its number of members of parliament has increased from 85 to 123 as a result partly of winning back support from the newer more left wing Podemos (“We can”) party led by Pablo Iglesias, but had also won over other voters.
How to deal with Catalan separatists is key issue
How to deal with the independence movement in Catalonia was a central feature of the election campaign, with all the right of centre parties accusing Sanchez of adopting too conciliatory an approach to the Catalan nationalists despite the fact that the election was provoked by Catalan parties withdrawing support from the government because it would not agree to an independence referendum. From the point of view of an outsider it looks as though Sanchez’s strategy of dialogue on possible further devolution of powers while refusing to countenance independence looks the best way to keep Spain together and that the hardline approach favoured by the opposition parties would be likely to alienate moderate Catalans and so risk pushing them to supporting independence. That is not, however, how it seems to many people in Spain.
Government will still be a minority one
Despite his success Sanchez faces severe challenges to providing effective government capable of tackling corruption, taking on vested interests, improving education and training and tackling still high 14% unemployment (though well down on a peak of 27%). The right which used to be dominated by the PP has splintered into three nationwide parties” a severely diminished PP, the new Vox—stridently nationalist and anti-feminist as well as riding on concerns over immigration – and Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) which initially appeared a centrist party but which is now competing with the PP (it boosted its support at the expense of the PP but remains slightly smaller). The Ciudadanos leader, Albert Rivera has insisted that he will not be part of a centre-left arrangement with the Socialists.
Can it win support of Ciudadanos for individual measures
Podemos is willing to cooperate with the PSOE. Indeed it would like to be part of a coalition government, but Sanchez has indicated he prefers to govern as a single party government seeking support where he can to pass legislation. If he is to govern effectively he will need to achieve some degree of cooperation with the Ciudadanos party even if it remains formally part of the opposition, since the combination of PSOE and Podemos MPs is ten short of a majority. The alternative of governing with the support of Catalan nationalists would be unstable given their ultimate aim of independence, which the PSOE cannot contemplate. It would also be a conflict of interest with regard to negotiations on the future status of Catalonia. Ciudadanos, given its strong stance in favour of Spanish unity, should feel a responsibility not to push the government into the need to depend on nationalist parties, but whether it will refrain from doing so remains to be seen. Sanchez appears to want to work with Ciudadonos and judges that a coalition with the far left Podemos would make this more difficult.