MADRID (AP) – Spain’s conservative People’s Party could have narrowly won the country’s national elections on Sunday, but without the majority needed to overthrow the coalition government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
With 90% of the votes counted, the PP was on track to secure 136 of the 350 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Spanish Parliament. Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party was poised to take 122 seats, two more than in the outgoing legislature.
Although the Socialists are likely to have the projected 31 seats of the left-wing “Sumar” (Joining Forces Alliance) and several smaller parties, there was a real possibility that neither party could achieve a majority.
The close election would likely lead to weeks of political wrangling. The next prime minister will only be voted on once the deputies are represented in the new Chamber of Deputies. The absolute majority required to form a government is 176 seats.
Pre-election polls had predicted a major victory for the People’s Party and the possibility of a coalition with the far-right Vox party. Such a coalition would have returned a far-right force to Spain’s government for the first time since the country’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s, following almost 40 years of dictator Francisco Franco’s rule.
Sánchez was attempting to win his third straight national election since coming to power in 2018. The Socialists and the youngest member of their coalition government lost to the conservative party and the far-right Vox party in regional and local elections in May, prompting Sánchez to call snap elections for Sunday.
Most polls during the election campaign assumed that the national vote would go in the same direction, but that the PP would need support from Vox to form a government led by PP candidate Alberto Núñez Feijóo.
A PP-Vox government would have meant another EU member would have moved significantly to the right, a trend seen recently in Sweden. Finland And Italy. Countries like Germany and France are concerned about the impact such a shift would have on EU immigration and climate policies.
The two main left parties in Spain are pro-EU parties. On the right the PP is also for the EU. Vox, led by Santiago Abascal, opposes EU interference in Spain’s affairs.
The election will take place while Spain is holding the election The rotating EU presidency. Sánchez had hoped to use the six-month tenure to highlight his administration’s progress. An election defeat by Sánchez could result in the PP taking over the EU presidency.
Sánchez was one of the first to cast his vote at a polling station in Madrid.
He later commented on the large number of foreign media covering the election, saying: “It means that what happens today will be very important not only for us but also for Europe and I think that should also give us food for thought.”
“I don’t want to say I’m optimistic or not. I’m in a good mood,” added Sánchez.
An embargoed tracking poll released by Spanish public broadcaster RTVE after the vote closed indicated an uncertain outcome.
Sumar, a coalition of 15 small left-wing parties, is led by second deputy prime minister Yolanda Díaz, the only woman among them four top candidates.
Díaz called on everyone to vote, recalling that freedom of choice has not always existed in Spain.
“A lot is at risk,” said Diáz after the vote. “For the people of my generation, these are the most important elections.”
It’s about “waking up tomorrow with more rights, more democracy and more freedom,” she said.
The election took place in the middle of summer, and millions of voters were probably on vacation away from their regular polling stations. However, postal ballot applications skyrocketed even before Sunday.
With neither party expected to achieve an outright majority, the choice is essentially between another left-wing coalition and a right-far right partnership.
For survey favorite Feijóo it is clear: “It is clear that many things are involved, which country model we want, a solid and strong government.”
Vox’s Abascal said he was hoping for “a massive mobilization (of voters) that will allow Spain to change direction”.
Alejandro Bleda, 45, did not say who he voted for but indicated he supported left-wing parties. “Given the polarization in this country, you either have to vote for 50 years of backwardness or for progress,” he said.
The most important Questions at stake There are “many freedoms, social rights, public health and education,” said Bleda after the vote in the Palacio de Valdés public school polling station in central Madrid.
Voters are to elect 350 members to the lower house of Parliament and 208 members to the Senate.
Carmen Acero, 62, who voted for the Popular Party, compared Sánchez to Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and said she voted because “it’s hell to go on with Pedro Sánchez.”
With a Spanish flag on her phone, Acero accused Sánchez of being an “assassin” for aligning himself with the small Basque regional party, Bildu, which includes some former members of the now-defunct armed separatist group ETA.
Comes on the heels of a month of heat wavesAverage temperatures of over 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), or 5 to 10 degrees Celsius above normal, were expected in many parts of the country. The authorities distributed fans to many broadcasters.
“We have the heat, but the right to freely exercise our voice is stronger than the heat,” said Rosa Maria Valladolid-Prieto, 79, in Barcelona.
Sánchez’s government has guided Spain through the COVID-19 pandemic and navigated an inflationary economic downturn made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But his reliance on fringe parties, including separatist forces from Catalonia and the Basque Country, to keep his minority coalition afloat and passing a raft of liberal laws could cost him his job.
Associated Press writer Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona. AP journalists Aritz Parra, Renata Brito, Iain Sullivan, María Gestoso, Alicia Léon, and José María García contributed to this report.