Far-Right Surge Pushes Spain’s Left to Come Together

Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias speaks as Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez looks on after signing an agreement at the parliament in Madrid on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Paul White)

(CN) — Faced with a surge in support in Sunday elections for the far-right nationalist Vox party, Spain’s Socialist party will try to form a coalition government with a smaller far-left party it had previously rejected as a partner.

On Tuesday, acting Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, and Pablo Iglesias, the pony-tailed head of a far-left direct-democracy party known as Unidas Podemos (Together We Can), said they can work together and form a government.

Still, they will need the support of smaller parties, among them Catalan and Basque independence parties. Catalan and Basque leaders said they could support the new coalition, which may be more willing to listen to their demands than previous governments.

In Sunday elections, the Socialists picked up the most parliamentary seats with 120 in the Congress of Deputies, though that was three fewer than in the previous election in April. Support for Podemos also fell and it now commands 35 seats, down from 42. A smaller, new left-wing party that broke off from Podemos picked up three seats. It too may support a left-wing coalition.

In other words, the elections showed that support for the left in Spain appears to be maxed out.

But the right is gaining momentum — and this likely played a big part in Sánchez’s decision to clasp hands with Iglesias on Tuesday and sign a preliminary agreement to work together. Only two months ago, Sánchez said he would not be able to sleep at night if Podemos members had ministerial positions in his government.

On Sunday, a growing number of Spanish voters threw their support behind Vox, a far-right nationalist party. It more than doubled its seats in parliament, from 24 to 52. Vox’s hard-right message of stamping out the independence drive in Catalonia, kicking immigrants out of Spain and pushing a socially conservative agenda is growing in appeal.

The election also saw the center-right Popular Party regain its footing after it was brought down by corruption scandals. It picked up 87 parliamentary seats, up from 66.

With the right-wing bloc on the rise, Sánchez apparently could not afford to be seen as dithering and negotiating any longer. For months, he was unable to form a government after he locked horns with Podemos.

El País, the Spanish newspaper, said Tuesday’s coalition announcement “seemed to be an armistice after the bloody war of the Spanish left that led to elections in which everyone lost.”

Spain has been in political turmoil since a conservative government led by the Popular Party was brought down in a no-confidence vote in 2018 due to corruption scandals. Sánchez assumed the prime minister’s role after the conservatives lost the no-confidence vote.

Sánchez called elections in April with the hope of gaining a majority, but his Socialists fell short. After that election, the Socialists and Podemos entered talks to form a government, but those negotiations fell apart after the Socialists refused to give Podemos key Cabinet positions.

If this coalition wins support in Parliament, it would be Spain’s first experiment with a power-sharing government since the country’s transition to democracy in the late 1970s after the death of dictator General Francisco Franco.

“The Spanish people have spoken and now it is time for its political leaders to implement that will and to overcome the deadlock that Spain has suffered in recent times,” Sánchez said.

Iglesias said a left-wing government would work “toward dialogue” on the question of Catalan independence and serve as “the best vaccine against the far right.”

Political leaders on the right blasted the new coalition.

Pablo Casado, the leader of the Popular Party, called it an attempt to form “a radical government, which is the last thing Spain needs at the moment.”

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Vox, said Sánchez was embracing “Bolivarian communism,” a reference to Podemos leader Iglesias’ support for the kind of socialist programs espoused by South American left-wing leaders, including Evo Morales, the former president of Bolivia who was driven from his country this week after a contested election and was granted political asylum in Mexico.

(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)

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