Special Briefing: Spanish Voters Lean Left … and to the Far-Right

Special Briefing: Spanish Voters Lean Left … and to the Far-Right

Prime Minister of Spain, Pedro Sanchez addresses supporters outside of the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’s Party) headquarters on April 28, 2019 in Madrid, Spain. Spaniards go to the polls to elect 350 members of the parliament and 208 senators this Sunday.

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Why you should care

Spain’s voters turned out in record numbers to ditch centrist conservatives in favor of leftists and the far-right.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

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Supporters gathered outside the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’s Party) Madrid headquarters on April 28 after Spaniards went to the polls to elect 350 members of Parliament and 208 senators.

Source Getty Images

What happened? Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) is basking in the glow of victory following yesterday’s elections. He was sworn in by royal decree after a no-confidence motion last summer ousted conservative leader Mariano Rajoy. Now Sánchez has won the highest share of votes (29 percent) in Spain’s latest election — it’s not quite a majority, but it is the party’s first national victory since 2008. With 123 seats under its control, the PSOE will have to form a coalition, likely with anti-austerity leftist party Unidas Podemos and other small parties, in order to reach the 176-seat threshold required to govern.

Why does it matter? The PSOE’s dominance will mean a left-wing Spain. But that’s not the only story from Sunday’s election: The formerly dominant right-wing People’s Party (PP) saw its worst election result ever, losing more than half its seats. Meanwhile, a new far-right party, Vox, made a breakthrough, signaling Spain’s move away from centrism — and toward the far-right and far-left — in a voting public that saw turnout jump 9 percent since the last election in 2016. Meanwhile, the PSOE may still struggle to govern, as there’s major opposition on the left to some of the smaller single-issue parties that could offer crucial, majority-making seats in any coalition.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

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A woman wearing a rainbow flag casts her vote as a man holds a folder from far-right party Vox at a polling station in Madrid.

Source Getty Images

Still in charge. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was already in power but was forced to call snap elections, the nation’s third contest in four years, after Parliament rejected his budget proposal in February. It was just the second time that a national budget was voted down — the first time was in 1995 — since the country transitioned to democracy in 1978. The PSOE was hoping to use the budget to increase social spending and reduce inequalities recently exacerbated by austerity policies. But the Basque and Catalan nationalist parties that helped put Sánchez in power abandoned him after he refused to consider another Catalonian independence referendum. The question of Catalonian independence is still top of mind in Spain after a 2017 referendum vote in favor of secession caused chaos in the country and saw the movement’s leaders put on trial for rebellion.

The backlash. Those who oppose Catalonian independence are angry too. Those voters are thought to have been behind the rise of Vox, which opposes any negotiating with secessionists (along with what it calls “radical feminism” and multiculturalism). The far-right has been absent from Spanish politics since the 1975 death of dictator Francisco Franco, but Vox — backed by other European far-right parties like Italy’s League — will enter Parliament for the first time with 24 seats after winning more than 10 percent of the vote.

A greener future? A week after its budget defeat, the PSOE changed tactics: It rolled out its own version of the U.S. Green New Deal, a $53 billion public investment plan that would tackle climate change. That includes a 90 percent reduction in emissions by the middle of this century and a total switch to renewable energy. Those plans gathered widespread support — a survey from the European Investment Bank last year found that 87 percent of Spaniards are alarmed about global warming and 70 percent believe climate change is a threat to humanity. Now with a minority government secured, PSOE is likely to form a coalition with far-left Unidas Podemos party and other smaller parties … an alliance that could see Spain become a world leader on climate change.

They persisted. Women won a record 138 seats in Parliament, a 10 percent uptick from the last record high in 2011. Left-wing party Unidas Podemos, born from street protests against crippling austerity measures eight years ago, secured the most seats for women — including Rita Bosaho, who’ll become the first Black member of Spain’s Parliament.

WHAT TO READ

To Make a Comeback, Europe’s Center-Left Is Leaning … More Left, by Giovanni Legorano in The Wall Street Journal

“Populists of the far left and the far right have made inroads among disillusioned voters with attacks on the establishment, accelerating the collapse of the traditional European center-left.”

Analysis: How Did Sunday’s Elections Change Spain’s Political Landscape? by Carlos E. Cué in El Pais

“It was a disastrous night for the right. The new leader of the PP, Pablo Casado, has led the party to the worst result in its entire history, well below even the most pessimistic forecasts.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Socialists Win Spain Elections

“The election mobilized a huge number of people, with over 75 percent of the electorate voting, including those who support the far-right.”

Watch on Deutsche Welle on YouTube:

Feminism Spurs Debate in Spain’s Male-Dominated Election

“The rise in feminism isn’t going unchallenged. A counter-movement is gathering pace, fueled by the growing popularity of the far-right Vox Party.”

Watch on Al Jazeera on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Fair-weather friends. Eli Hazan, foreign affairs director for Likud, Israel’s ruling party, tweeted support for Vox the day of the election, calling it a “sister party.” But after backlash over Vox’s far-right rhetoric, alleged Islamophobia and even links to Holocaust denial, Hazan deleted the tweet and issued an apology for linking Likud to Vox when the support had been a personal stance rather than a party one.

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