Spain\’s socialist prime minister was on course to win snap elections on Sunday but without the necessary majority to govern as far-right party Vox prepares to enter parliament for the first time, partial results showed.
The results raise the spectre of another period of instability for Spain since the end of two-party politics, with Pedro Sanchez having to forge alliances with hostile rivals in an environment that has soured since Catalonia\’s failed secession bid in 2017.
The most significant new development is the emergence of far-right party Vox in a country that has had no far-right party to speak of since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
With over 60 percent of votes counted, Sanchez\’s Socialist Party had gained 124 lawmakers out of 350, or more than 29 percent of votes, still far from an absolute majority.
That means Sanchez will have to forge agreements with far-left Podemos and possibly smaller groupings like Catalan separatist parties, as he did over the past 10 months.
The partial results, meanwhile, show the conservative Popular Party (PP) getting a drubbing and the three right-wing parties competing in the elections failing to gain enough votes to form a majority.
– Far-right emergence –
The emergence of Vox at a national level comes after it burst onto the scene in December regional polls in southern Andalusia, gaining nearly 11 percent of votes.
Founded by a disgruntled former member of the PP, partial results give it 23 seats in the national parliament.
After a tense campaign, voter turnout was high — more than 75 percent — up from 66.48 percent at the same time in 2016, election authorities said.
Retired construction worker Carlos Gonzalez said he had cast his ballot for the Socialists because they were the "moderate option".
Vox "is going backwards, to the past. It\’s not the future because the future is a united Europe," he told AFP at a Madrid polling station.
– Catalonia shadow –
Founded by Santiago Abascal, a former member of the PP, with a strong stance against feminism and illegal immigration, Vox has stood out with ultra-nationalist rhetoric that advocates the "defence of the Spanish nation to the end" and a hard line against separatists in Catalonia.
The region in northeastern Spain was the scene of a secession attempt in 2017 that sparked the country\’s biggest crisis in decades and caused major concern in Europe.
Since then, the crisis has continued to cast a pall over Spanish politics.
Sanchez was forced to call early elections after Catalan pro-independence lawmakers in the national parliament, angered at the trial of their leaders in Madrid, refused to give him the support he needed for his 2019 budget.
Right-wing parties have for their part lambasted Sanchez, at the head of a minority government, for his attempts to negotiate with Catalan separatists who still govern the region, accusing him of being a traitor.
Dolores Palomo, a 48-year-old domestic worker, said she had always voted for the Socialists but cast her ballot for centre-right Ciudadanos this time at a polling station in Hospitalet de Llobregat, near Barcelona, because Sanchez "is a puppet of the separatists".
– Chronic instability? –
Sanchez would rather not have to rely once again on Catalan separatist lawmakers in the national parliament, given right-wing parties\’ accusations that he cosied up with the "enemies of Spain" during his time in government.
But he may have no choice.
A possible alliance with Ciudadanos has not been ruled out, even if the party\’s leader Albert Rivera has made "chasing" the socialists from power a "national urgency".