General elections in Spain: the countdown is on!

, by Marie Long

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

General elections in Spain: the countdown is on!
The President of the Government of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen in July 2023. EU2023ES, Flickr.

This article is a translation of ’Élections générales en espagne : le compte à rebours est lancé’, published on Le Taurillon on 11/07/2023.

Just over a month ago, on the 29th of May, it was a rough morning for supporters of the Spanish left. The day before, the vote count revealed the victory of Albert Núñez Feijóo’s right-wing Popular Party over the left-wing PSOE for the regional and municipal elections. A major failure for the party of the current head of government, Pedro Sanchez, whose party is now weaker than ever.

Only a few hours after the results came out, the current Prime Minister announced that he was dissolving Parliament and calling early elections. The outcome of the election will come just a few days after the start of Spain’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, a scheduling conflict that leaves the course of the six-month presidency uncertain.

Socialist failure in regional and municipal elections: a fervent disapproval for Pedro Sanchez’s politics.

The blue of the PP is now spread across Spain’s regions and municipalities following the last elections which were characterized by a historically low turnout (63.9%).

In addition to the defeat of the governing party, other parties emerged greatly weakened from these elections, such as the radical left-wing party Podemos, whose loss of popularity was obvious in the ballot box. The same is true for the centrist Ciudadanos party, which looks set to bow out and be absorbed by the PP.

The arrival of an alliance between the right and the far right at the head of most Spanish regions is a cause for concerns. Angels, a young Valencian voter, confesses her fears about the right-wing persecution of the use of Valencian, her native language, and the threat posed by the far right to minority rights: “I’m afraid for the use of Valencian, which will certainly be persecuted. I’m also worried about respect for LGBT+ and women’s rights, as the Vox party hasn’t been afraid to show that it wants to throw all these concerns ’in the garbage can’”, here referring to a banner unfurled by the far-right party showing a hand throwing symbols such as the LGBTQ+ flag or a feminist emblem in the garbage can, accompanied with the slogan “decide lo que importa” (“decide what matters”). Her fears seem to have been confirmed after a member of Vox, firmly opposed to abortion and feminist movements, took over the presidency of the Valencian Parliament.

Similar concerns are echoed by another voter from the Valencia region, who expresses his feelings about the right-wing victory: “It was really depressing, I’m a bit afraid for the years to come, I think acts of homophobic violence will become more frequent”. So, it’s with great worries that they both look ahead to the next general election.

Sanchez launches a race against time to unite the left.

In a surprise move, the Spanish head of government announced, the day after the regional and municipal elections, that he would dissolve Parliament and call early general elections for July 23. Taha, a young Catalan voter, gave us his initial reaction to the announcement: “Sanchez’s decision came as a great surprise, but we understand why he took it. The aim is to mobilize voters and facilitate a left-wing alliance”.

The current head of government is therefore racing against time to form a left-wing coalition and try to stay in power. The other decisive factor in this election will be the turnout of left-wing voters, who abstained more on average in the last election than right-wing voters.

Sanchez has therefore urged his supporters to join forces to prevent the right-wing and far-right alliance from obtaining an absolute majority in Parliament. After an episode of quick negotiations, a united front finally emerged on the left, despite strong tensions between the radical left of Podemos and Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz’s party, Sumar.

The rapprochement between the right and the far right crystallizes tensions.

The likely alliance between the right-wing PP and the far-right Vox is at the heart of debates on both left and right. The normalization of the radical right is worrying, as Taha explains: "The far right has penetrated Spanish institutions. Before, it was unthinkable for the PP to govern with the far right, but now it’s a reality.

Vox’s extremist positions on women’s rights and the rights of LGBTQ+ people are entrenching tensions with the right, with some PP members putting up resistance and refusing to collaborate.

A young voter from Madrid confides in us his confusion and concerns about this likely alliance at national level: “I still don’t know who I’m going to vote for in the next elections, but I don’t want a coalition with the far right, I think we really need to worry about the great support that benefit their ideology”. Left-wing supporter Nacho is also firmly opposed to such an alliance: “I wouldn’t feel safe with such a government”.

This rapprochement between the two political forces seems to be a stumbling block for Albert Núñez Feijóo, who remains discreet about the state of negotiations with Vox.

Spanish Presidency of the EU Council: a “wasted” presidency.

In the midst of the electoral turmoil, the Spanish Presidency of the EU Council began on July 1st, eagerly awaited by Spanish Europhiles. The surprise of the dissolution of Parliament was all the greater for them. Taha confesses his disappointment: “We thought that Sanchez would take advantage of this presidency of the EU Council. No matter who heads the government, the Spanish presidency is going to be wasted”.

Sanchez’s decision has far-reaching consequences for the Council presidency, which is struggling to establish itself in the run-up to national elections. On Monday, after his meeting with Charles Michel, he received the College of European Commissioners in Madrid, and, alongside Ursula Von Der Leyen, took stock of the major issues at stake over the next six months: support for Ukraine, closing the asylum and immigration pact, and strengthening ties between the EU, Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Spanish Prime Minister’s objectives revolve around four points: European unity, ecological transition, a fair economy, and strategic autonomy.

This roadmap could well be jeopardized by a possible political changeover on July 23rd, leaving the course of this presidency uncertain.

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