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Spain General election 2019: Socialists win

The 2019 Spanish general election was held on Sunday, 28 April 2019, to elect the 13th Cortes Generales of the Kingdom of Spain. All 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies were up for election, as well as 208 of 266 seats in the Senate. Under an high turnout of 75.8%, the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez won a resounding victory, the first for the party in a nationwide election in eleven years, with 28.7% of the share and 123 seats, an improvement of 38 over its previous mark which mostly came at the expense of left-wing Unidas Podemos. the People’s Party (PP) under Casado suffered a spectacular collapse and scored its worst result in history after being reduced to 66 seats and 16.7% of the share in what was dubbed the worst electoral setback for a major political party in Spain since the collapse of the UCD in 1982. Cs saw an increase of support which brought them within 0.8 points and 9 seats from the PP, overcoming them in several major regions throughout the country. The far-right Vox party, the political novelty of the election, saw a strong perfomance but failed to fulfill expectations by scoring 10.3% of the share and 24 seats; nonetheless, the division of the centre-right vote into three parties ensured Sánchez’s PSOE would be the only political party able to command a majority in the Congress of Deputies throughout alliances.

Background

Following the 2016 election, the People’s Party (PP) formed a minority government with confidence and supply support from Ciudadanos (Cs) and Canarian Coalition (CC), allowed by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) abstaining in Mariano Rajoy’s investiture after a party crisis resulted in the ousting of Pedro Sánchez as leader. The PP’s term of office was undermined by a constitutional crisis over the Catalan issue, the result of a regional election held thereafter,coupled with corruption scandals and protests with thousands of retirees demanding pension increases. In May 2018, the National Court found in the Gürtel case that the PP had profited from the kickbacks-for-contracts scheme and confirmed the existence of an illegal accounting and financing structure, since 1989, kept separate from the party’s official accounts. Sánchez, who was re-elected as PSOE leader in a leadership contest in 2017, brought down Rajoy’s government in June 2018 through a motion of no confidence. Rajoy resigned as PP leader, and was succeeded by Pablo Casado.

Presiding over a minority government of 84 deputies, Pedro Sánchez struggled to maintain a working majority in the Congress with the support of the parties which had backed the no confidence motion. The 2018 Andalusian regional election, which saw the PSOE losing the regional government for the first time in history, resulted in a sudden and strong rise of the far-right Vox party and this Regional election result translated to nationwide opinion polling shortly thereafter. After the 2019 General State Budget was voted down by the Congress of Deputies on 13 February 2019 as a result of Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) siding against government, Sánchez called a snap election to be held on 28 April, just one month ahead of the “Super Sunday” of local, regional and European Parliament elections scheduled for 26 May.

Political Uncertainty for quite sometime

Spain has been witnessing political uncertainty for quite some time. The general election in June 2016 had resulted in the People’s Party (PP) gaining votes and seats relative to its result in the December 2015 election and a round of coalition talks throughout the summer saw Mariano Rajoy obtaining the support of Ciudadanos (C’s) and Canarian Coalition (CC) for his investiture, but this was still not enough to assure him re-election. On the other hand,  Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party(PSOE) leader Pedro Sánchez  opposing Rajoy’s investiture led to his ouster from the left part and a caretaker committee was appointed by party rebels led by Susana Díaz, who subsequently set out to abstain in Rajoy’s investiture and allow a PP minority government to be formed, preventing a third election in a row from taking place. However, Díaz’s bid to become new party leader was defeated by party members in a party primary in May 2017, with Sánchez being voted again into office under a campaign aimed at criticising the PSOE’s abstention in Rajoy’s investiture. Pressure on the Spanish government increased after a massive constitutional crisis over the issue of an illegal independence referendum unravelled in Catalonia. Initial actions from the Parliament of Catalonia to approve two bills supporting a referendum and a legal framework for an independent Catalan state were suspended by the Constitutional Court of Spain. The government’s crackdown on referendum preparations—which included police searches, raids and arrests of Catalan government officials, as well as an intervention into Catalan finances—sparked public outcry and protests accusing the PP government of “anti-democratic and totalitarian” repression.

Mishandling of the Catalan Crisis and the allegations of corruption

Public outcry against government’s high handedness with Catalan protestors and corruption led to decline in the image of PP. After Ctalan crisis, Rajoy immediately dissolved the Catalan parliament and called a regional election for 21 December 2017, but it left his PP severely mauled as Cs capitalised on anti-independence support in the region. The scale of PP’s collapse in Catalonia and the success of Cs had an impact on national politics, with Ciudadanos skyrocketing to first place nationally in subsequent opinion polls, endangering PP’s stand as the hegemonic party within the Spanish centre-right spectrum. Massive protests by pensioners groups, long regarded as a key component of the PP’s electoral base, demanding pension increases, further undermining the PP’s standing. On 24 May 2018, the National Court found that the PP profited from the illegal kickbacks-for-contracts scheme of the Gürtel case, confirming the existence of an illegal accounting and financing structure that had run in parallel with the party’s official one since 1989 and ruling that the PP helped establish “a genuine and effective system of institutional corruption through the manipulation of central, autonomous and local public procurement”.

No-confidence Motion

This event prompted the PSOE to submit a motion of no confidence in Rajoy and in Cs withdrawing its support from the government and demanding the immediate calling of an early election. An absolute majority of 180 MPs in the Congress of Deputies voted to oust Mariano Rajoy from power on 1 June 2018, replaced him as Prime Minister with PSOE’s Pedro Sánchez. On 5 June, Rajoy announced his farewell from politics and his return to his position as property registrar in Santa Pola, vacating his seat in the Congress of Deputies and triggering a leadership contest in which the party’s Vice Secretary-General of Communication, Pablo Casado, defeated former Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and became new PP president on 21 July 2018.

For most of his government, Sánchez was reliant on confidence and supply support from Unidos Podemos and New Canaries (NCa), negotiating additional support from Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) and Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) on an issue-by-issue basis. ERC, PDeCAT and En Marea withdrew their support from the government in February 2019 by voting down the 2019 General State Budget, with the government losing the vote 191–158 and prompting a snap election being called for 28 April.

The New Government’s Commitment

In his victory speech, Mr Sánchez said the party’s big challenges were to fight inequality, advance co-existence and halt corruption. “The future has won and the past has lost,” he told cheering supporters. During his time in office he has raised the minimum wage, appointed a female-dominated cabinet and promised to strengthen rape laws, defining it as sex without clear consent.

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