Just as we thought

Spanish voters have done just what I (and pretty much every other commentator) said they would: returned a parliament that is almost indistinguishable in its fundamentals from the one elected six months earlier, out of which the politicians failed to produce a majority government. (See yesterday’s preview here.)

Final results show the People’s Party (centre-right) doing better than expected, picking up an extra 14 seats with a swing of 4.3%. But with 137 of the 350 seats (off 33.0% of the vote) it remains well short of a majority. The centre-left Socialists held steady in votes but lost ground slightly in seats (down to 85), while the far-left Podemos did the opposite, losing 3.4% of the vote but retaining its 71 seats. Citizens, in the centre, lost ground in both, down to 13.0% and 32 seats.

So it remains true that there are two obvious majority combinations: a grand coalition of the People’s Party and the Socialists (242 seats), or a centre-left alliance between Citizens, the Socialists and Podemos (188 seats). It’s largely up to the Socialist leader, Pedro Sánchez, as to which of these he wants to pursue, although getting Citizens and Podemos to sit in the same room together will still be a challenge.

A third option, a left-wing coalition of Socialists and Podemos with support from regionalist parties, is now more difficult than it would have been earlier in the year, but still possible: taking in both Basques and Catalans of both left and centre-right would bring it to 180 seats, or 181 with the lone Canary Islander.

If Spain was a normal country, there would be a clear route to a centre-right majority government. The People’s Party, Citizens, Democratic Convergence of Catalonia, the Basque Nationalist Party and the Canarian Coalition – all of them centrist or centre-right parties – have 183 seats between them.

But that won’t happen, because the People’s Party is incorrigibly centralist. Whatever their own ideological preferences, the regionalist parties know that only the centre-left holds out any prospect of advances in regional autonomy. That’s why the Basques, natural conservatives in most respects, fought alongside the Communists in the Spanish Civil War.

The fresh election has probably advanced the process of decision-making in one (and only one) way. By delivering a swing to the People’s Party, it suggests they are the ones benefiting from the uncertainty, sending a message to the centre-left that dragging things out is doing them no good. But although that tells them they should try to jump sooner rather than later, it doesn’t really provide any guidance as to which direction they should go.

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