Sunday 19 May 2019

Spain's socialist success reverses trend that swept through Europe

Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is congratulated before a party meeting a day after Spain's general election. Photo: Juan Medina/Reuters
Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is congratulated before a party meeting a day after Spain's general election. Photo: Juan Medina/Reuters

Tommy Greene

Spain's third general election in less than four years delivered some big surprises if not exactly shocks, as the centre-left Socialist Party (PSOE) - which saw its vote share almost halved in 2015 - stormed to victory in the national contest.

A shrewdly timed snap election campaign, framed largely around the fear of a radicalised right, paid dividends for Pedro Sanchez's formation, returning a 12-point margin aided by high voter participation. The fragmentation of the Spanish right, on the other hand, has led to the collapse of the fortress it created after the country's transition to democracy, the demise of Partido Popular, and a significant breakthrough for the far-right Vox on the national scene.

Although Vox had been expected to make greater gains - finally bringing Spain in line with Europe's wider lurch to the populist right - Mr Sanchez's broad progressive bloc decisively won out.

For a country still coming to terms with Franco's legacy, and in a contest that saw opponents frame one another as existential threats to the post-transition settlement, a choice between moderate progressive reform (although posing challenges to Spain's territorial unity) and potential regression to the darkest chapter of its recent history was in the end clear.

The open-ended nature of this election - with surveys indicating record levels of voters undecided before the ballot - reflects in some ways the wild swings in the country's national polls over the course of the past five years.

At various points, each of the four biggest parties has surged into the lead since the then- insurgent left-wing group Podemos smashed open a two-party system that had largely defined Spain's post-transition regime. The right's result put paid to any notion of a potential comeback opportunity for Spanish bipartisanship.

Hoping to replicate the gains made in December's Andalusian regional election, a tripartite right-wing bloc promised to re-apply direct rule in Catalonia and to roll back freedoms in a neo-conservative turn on hard-won rights like abortion. Vox itself went further, suggesting it might outlaw left-wing and independence parties, as well as shut down liberal media outlets. In particular, the right's promise of renewed confrontation around the question of Catalan independence ultimately failed to chime with an electorate exhausted by years of protracted conflict and upheaval.

Mr Sanchez's PSOE, after barely nine months of a difficult interim term, now stands among Portugal's Socialist Party and Britain's Labour Party as anomalies to the trend of post-2008 decline devouring social-democratic formations across the continent. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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