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The Big Questions (And Coalition Headaches) Ahead For Spain

The country finds itself without a clear majority following yesterday's parliamentary elections. Amid such inconclusive results, what are the country's best options to avoid prolonged political limbo?

Photo of Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, leader of the PP, delivering a speech in Madrid after yesterday's election

Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, leader of the PP, delivering a speech in Madrid after yesterday's election

Cécile Thibaud

MADRID — The prospect of a right-wing government in Spain, formed by an alliance between the moderates of the Popular Party (PP) and the extreme right-wingers of Vox, seems to be receding. The country is left without a clear path forward, with the possibility of new elections being called between now and Christmas.

Still, none of this should hinder Spain's six-month presidency of the European Union, since the current government will remain in office until a new one is formed.

The immediate results of last night's parliamentary elections show a deeply divided country faced with a series of unsolvable questions: although the opposition conservative People’s party (PP) came out on top, with 136 members of parliament in the 350-seat institution, their victory is much smaller than had been hoped. To take power, they would need the support of far-right party Vox.

Except that the far-right was left undermined by the call for a "useful vote" in favor of the PP, winning only 33 seats — i.e. 19 fewer than in the 2019 legislative elections, nowhere near the landslide success it had hoped.

Away from a pact with Vox

This is where the headaches begin for Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, the PP's leader. While the idea of a coalition with the far right doesn't seem to bother his voters too much, it is absolutely unthinkable for the small regionalist, nationalist and pro-independence parties that usually serve as a support force.

Socialist supporters were celebrating the results as a victory.

Even the highly pragmatic Basque Nationalist Party (PNV, moderate right) has warned that it would steer clear of a pact with Vox and would not lend the votes of its five deputies to a right-wing alliance. Only the small Canaries and Navarre parties would be willing to contribute one deputy each. Yet, this would not be enough to pass the majority threshold.

Faced with this impasse, the Socialist Pedro Sánchez appears to be in a better position to negotiate a majority, even though he lost the duel between the two major parties with 122 deputies, 14 fewer than his opponent. On Sunday evening, outside the headquarters of the Socialist Party (PSOE), supporters were celebrating the results as a victory. Firstly, because their party had managed to beat the right-wing tidal wave predicted by the polls, and secondly, because they saw the possibility of a left-wing alliance emerging.

A progressive duo

The Socialist Party succeeded in obtaining results in line with the high end of the polls, without siphoning off the vote from Sumar (the coalition of small left-wing parties led by outgoing Labor Minister Yolanda Diaz) which secured 31 deputies and has announced its willingness to form a progressive coalition.

In this case, too, the union of the two parties would not be enough to secure a majority, so it would be necessary to appeal to the smaller parties, which have a total of 28 seats. Almost all of them should be open to discussion.

But at what cost? Pedro Sánchez knows that part of the Socialist electorate did not appreciate the rapprochement with the Basque separatists of Bildu and the concessions made to the Catalan separatists. So should he try that again?

In practice, for decades the smaller factions have shown that they are capable of getting along with both the PP and the PSOE, according to the circumstances, as long as they obtain advantageous terms for their region.

Pedro Sanchez, Spanish prime minister and secretary of the PSOE party, celebrates the results of the election on the night of 23 July 2023\u200b.

Pedro Sanchez, Spanish prime minister and secretary of the PSOE party, celebrates the results of the election on the night of 23 July 2023.

Alberto Gardin/ZUMA

A pragmatic approach

This pragmatic approach was the hallmark of the Basque and Catalan nationalists during Felipe Gonzalez and José María Aznar's governments. But the impact of the Catalan secession attempt in 2017 has thrown a wrench in the works, and created strong public reservations about this perpetual haggling.

Alberto Nuñez Feijoo was probably wrong to underestimate the impact of his agreements with Vox at municipal and regional level in recent weeks. The image of the triumphant far-right, promising to restore order and take back control of issues such as women's and minority rights, has frightened off a number of voters.

Spaniards are getting ready to go on vacation in peace.

It now remains to be seen whether Pedro Sánchez will make the same error by approaching the smaller parties. Negotiations are likely to be complicated, if not impossible. Junts, the right-wing Catalan pro-independence party led by former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, has already set the bar very high, announcing on Monday morning that it would immediately demand amnesty for those convicted in 2017, and a referendum on self-determination for Catalonia. In view of these demands, everything points to Spain heading for new elections by the end of the year.

Searching for the next prime minister

Now that they've voted in the middle of a heatwave, Spaniards are getting ready to go on vacation in peace. There will be no further action between now and Aug. 17, when the next parliament is inaugurated. Then, from Aug. 21, King Felipe VI will open a series of consultations with parliamentary spokespersons to gauge potential candidates' ability to form a majority.

The debates and vote of confidence could take place from September onwards, with the government being formed in the process. However, if no majority emerges within the next two months, the parliament will be dissolved and new elections called by the end of the year.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Here's Why Iran Might End Up Turning Its Back On Hamas

Iran's revolutionary regime insists it wants Israel destroyed and has threatened a regional war, but its actions are ambivalent, suggesting it may fear a regional war that would hasten its demise. As a result, it may decide to stop supporting Hamas in Gaza.

photo of women holding iranian and palestinian flags and photo of supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei

At a pro-Palestinian rally in Tehran on Nov. 4.

Rouzbeh Fouladi/ZUMA
Hamed Mohammadi

Updated Nov. 14, 2023 at 11:05 p.m.


Urban warfare is an ugly mess even for high-tech armies, yet after weeks of bombing Hamas targets, Israel believed it had no choice but to invade Gaza and expose its troops to just this type of fighting. It is the only way of flushing out Hamas, it says, which has decided to fight Israel amid the wreckage of Gazan homes, schools and clinics.

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Meanwhile, attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East by similar militias working in coordination with the Iranian regime have become a headache for the Biden administration, which is seen by some as taking a soft line with the Tehran. The administration insists there is no hard evidence yet of Iranian involvement in Hamas's attack on Israel on October 7, though it has hardened its tone, warning Tehran not to pour "fuel on fire."

As for the European Union, it remains cautious about listing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as terrorists, even if in September the NATO parliamentary assembly advised members of the alliance to list them as such and aid the democratic aspirations of ordinary Iranians.

Whatever the details, the war in Gaza is intimately connected to the Iranian regime and its modus operandi.

Its officials have warned that the Gaza offensive, if continued, would open new fronts against Israel. The regime's foreign minister, Hussein Amirabdullahian, vowed Gaza would become an Israeli "graveyard" if its troops invaded, while the head of the Revolutionary guards, Hussein Salami, compared the strip to a "dragon" that would "devour" the invaders.

But so far we have seen nothing of Iran's more dramatic threats, made soon after the October attack, including the West Bank joining with Gaza or the Lebanese Hezbollah firing off 150,000 rockets. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, while insisting Iran had nothing to do with the Hamas assault, urged regional states to starve Israel of fuel. That too has yet to happen.

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