Spain as it happens

Polls closed in Spain just over two hours ago, and with 72% of the vote counted the results so far are in line with prior expectations (see my preview here).

The best place to follow the count is at the El País site, although you’ll need to manually aggregate the Podemos vote from its four components. There’s also an English version with some of the reports, and a somewhat cursory BBC report. No doubt more will appear in due course.

It’s clear that the governing People’s Party (centre-right) will have easily the largest share of votes and seats – currently running at 28.3% and 124 seats – but in a parliament of 350 that’s a long way short of a majority. It won’t stop the headlines saying it’s “won” the election (first-past-the-post thinking dies hard), but staying in power is a different matter.

Prime minister Mariono Rajoy’s best hope was that the People’s Party and the new centrist force Citizens would between them have a majority or something very close to it. On the strength of the exit polls that looked possible, but it’s now very unlikely. Citizens’ performance is weaker than expected, although with 13.4% and a projected 36 seats it will still be a force to be reckoned with.

Spain is heading for a left-wing government of some sort. The opposition Socialists and the radical-left Podemos are currently projected to win 162 seats between them (off 22.6% and 18.5% of the vote respectively; the exit polls had put Podemos ahead of the Socialists, and with more of the urban vote to come in the gap will probably narrow). Add in nine seats for the Republican Left of Catalonia and eight for the Basque nationalists and you’re looking at a majority, albeit a precarious one.

Further updates to come.

10.35pm Spanish time: It’s been a quick count, so there’s not a lot of suspense here. Now 84.1% counted, and the People’s Party/Citizens combo is still projected to take 160 seats (122 and 38). Socialists/Podemos are totalling 162. The problem for the centre-right is that pretty much all of the remaining 28 or so seats will be either leftist of some sort or else regionalist, and therefore unlikely to line up with the centralist incumbents.

For example, Artur Mas’s new nationalist group in Catalonia, Democracy and Freedom, is looking at eight seats (from 2.3% of the vote). Its politics are centrist, but Mas’s relations with Madrid have been so bad that he’s certainly not going to go out of his way to keep Rajoy in power.

Which has more or less been the story of the Spanish right for over a century: its centralism alienates even people who would seem ideologically its natural allies.

Now we’ll get to see how the Socialists and Podemos can go in working out some sort of governing arrangement between themselves and then getting some of the regionalists on board.

11pm Spanish time: With 92.4% counted the balance has shifted very slightly towards the centre-right, but not enough to change the basic picture. The People’s Party and Citizens are looking at 162 seats between them, the Socialists and Podemos 160 (El País has now started aggregating the Podemos total, making life easier), Catalan nationalists 17 (nine left and eight centrist), Basque nationalists eight (six centrist and two left), two far left and one Canary islander.

The most stable majority on offer there, as Rocket Rocket suggests below, would be for Citizens and Podemos to both join with the Socialists, with their competing influences balancing each other. But it would be a challenge to make it work.

Turnout was 73.2%, up a little on 2011 but still historically quite low.

12 midnight Spanish time: Now 99.1% counted and no change from the seat totals in the last update. The People’s Party is sitting on 28.7% of the vote, its worst result since 1989, and the Socialists have 22.0% – their worst since the return of democracy.

With results now pretty much final, there seem to be four options for forming a governing majority:

  1. A grand centre-left coalition between the Socialists, Podemos and Citizens (200 seats out of 350).
  2. A left coalition of the Socialists, Podemos and some combination of regionalist parties (potentially up to 186 seats).
  3. A bipartisan coalition between the People’s Party and the Socialists (213 seats).
  4. A centre-right coalition between the People’s Party, Citizens and the various non-left regionalists (177 seats).

“Coalition” of course need not mean all the parties actually joining in government; it could be just an agreement to support a minority government. But even so it’s pretty clear that all of those options will have their problems.

1am Spanish time: As usual, the last few votes take a while to trickle in. It’s now 99.8% counted, and the People’s Party has picked up a seat at the expense of the Socialists, which doesn’t change the basic arithmetic.

In light of September’s regional election, treated as a de facto referendum on independence, it’s interesting to look at the voting yesterday in Catalonia. The rise of Podemos (known locally as En Comú), which supported a referendum without backing independence, has cannibalised the nationalist vote.

In September the united pro-independence ticket had 39.6%; yesterday its components managed only 31.1% – 16.0% for the left and 15.1% for the centrists. En Comú led clearly with 24.7%, the Socialists had 15.7%, Citizens 13.1% and the People’s Party 11.1%.

Basically everyone except the People’s Party say they want constitutional reform of some sort, so recognition of the special status of Catalonia – probably including a real referendum – is going to be a big agenda item. But the People’s Party has retained its majority in the Senate, so if it’s feeling bloody-minded it will be in a position to block reform.

4.20am Spanish time: With everything done and dusted and the Spaniards presumably sleeping off all the excitement, here’s my summary of the result:

Party Votes Swing Seats Change Projection
People’s Party 28.9% -16.3% 123 -64 104
Socialists 22.2% -6.8% 90 -20 79
Podemos 20.8% +20.3% 69 +68 74
Citizens 14.0% +14.0% 40 +40 50
Republican Left of Catalonia 2.4% +1.3% 9 +6 8
Democracy & Liberty (Catalan nationalists) 2.3% -1.9% 8 -8 8
Basque Nationalist Party 1.2% -0.1% 6 +1 4
Popular Unity (far left) 3.7% -3.2% 2 -9 13
EH Bildu (Basque nationalists) 0.9% -0.5% 2 -5 3
Other regionalists 0.9% -1.4% 1 -4 2
Animal Rights 0.9% +0.5% 0 0 3
Union, Progress and Democracy (centrist) 0.6% -4.1% 0 -5 2
Others 1.2% -1.3% 0    

I’ve factored out the blank ballots, so the percentages will be a tiny bit higher than in the official reports, and a lot of minor parties change names and identities, so don’t put too much reliance on my calculations of swing. But the top of the table, and particularly the big four parties, is where the action is.

To substantiate the claim made in my preview that this is not really a proportional system, the last column projects the seats that would have been won by just doing a D’Hondt allocation across the whole country, instead of province by province. It shows the way the system works against smaller parties, unless – like the regionalist parties – their support is geographically concentrated.

It also reveals a fact that will be very important as Spain heads into a period of uncertainty and negotiation: the two major parties, although they still hold a large majority of seats between them (213 out of 350), have only won a bare majority of the vote (51.1%). That should put paid to any lingering thought they might have about trying to team up in a grand coalition.

Despite the People’s Party’s lead, one way or another the opposition is going to end up in government. But getting there could be a long process.


5 thoughts on “Spain as it happens

  1. Yes I nearly choked on my cereal this morning when I saw headlines “Spain’s ruling conservatives narrowly win election” – I couldn’t believe they could have got anywhere near a majority, and of course they didn’t.

    I will be very interesting to see if Citizens join the Socialists and Podemos in some loose coalition. Because if they don’t, as you point out there could still be a “bare bones” leftwing coalition majority. So Citizens will be weighing up whether they want “a bit of something” or “all of nothing”.

    If I were advising them I would advise them to join a 3-way coalition against Rajoy – this is Citizens’ first national election and if they just end up out of Government with Rajoy and the PP their fortunes may slip further.

    Also very interesting that the very last poll “swings” before the Spanish Poll publication blackout did show Podemos improving and Citizens slipping, as indeed seems to have happened.


  2. Thanks Rocket – yes, the latest polls certainly seemed to have the trajectory right. What you say about Citizens makes a lot of sense; a broad coalition would be much more stable than relying on the regionalists, and staying out would risk identifying them with the People’s Party. But having both them and Podemos is the same cabinet would be an interesting dynamic.


  3. So now – the Socialists say they will NOT be in a grand coalition with PP. Citizens say they will NOT be in any coalition if Podemos is a part of it. Podemos say they will NOT support PP remaining in government. Citizens do say they would abstain from “confidence” vote to give PP a chance to form government. Socialists say last thing they want is another elction, but it looks a big possibility in the New Year!

    ¡Feliz Navidad!


  4. Yes, looking like a real mess at the moment. Probably money on a Socialist minority government with Podemos and regionalist support, but anything could happen. I’ll try to do an update next week once a few people are back from holidays.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.