Rajoy’s position now looks unassailable, and not only to his own party
Spain experiences Brexit ripple effect
The surprise outcome of Spain’s general election last month, just three days after the Brexit referendum, was the first manifestation of its impact on another European state .
The resultant surge of political instability boosted the unexpectedly strong performance of the right-wing Partido Popular, led by the highly experienced Mariano Rajoy. With Spain itself in protracted crisis, the prospect of a safe pair of hands on the national wheel in the midst of a continental upheaval became increasingly attractive.
This was Spain’s second election in six months, following massive changes in the political landscape in December’s vote. Two new political formations mounted powerful challenges to Spain’s de facto two-party system, dominated by the PP and the centre-left Socialist Party (PSOE).
Both of these parties saw their support plummet last year, though they remained ahead of their new rivals in a four-way split. Then each failed to form a government, either with each other or with the radical leftists of Podemos or the anti-corruption conservatives of Ciudadanos. Rajoy’s leadership was a key obstacle for all other parties; he is widely seen to be complacent about major corruption scandals involving the PP.
As these scandals multiplied in recent months, and Rajoy still refused to even consider stepping down, opinion polls showed the PP falling further. Polls also suggested that Podemos, now in partnership with former communists, would overtake the PSOE as Spain’s second party.
This prospect of a rising “Red” tide across the country helped Rajoy re-mobilise conservative voters. But even the PP hardly expected to do as well as it did, taking back 14 seats to achieve a total of 137.
This is well short of a majority, but decisively ahead of the PSOE, which fell to 85 seats, its worst performance ever.
Meanwhile, Podemos only inched up to 71 seats (and lost a million votes). Ciudadanos slipped eight seats to 32, and is no immediate threat to the PP’s conservative hegemony.
Rajoy’s position now looks unassailable, and not only to his own party.
The PSOE, with its leadership in disarray, will find it much harder to resist the PP’s offer of a Rajoy-led grand coalition this time around. So will Ciudadanos, already showing signs of softening on the Rajoy issue. And neither party now has any appetite for yet another election.
A government with 254 of 350 seats would, in theory at least, be powerfully equipped to deal with storms on the horizon, including Catalan moves towards independence and the growing crises in the EU.
Both PSOE and Ciudadanos may, however, prefer to support a Rajoy minority government than to serve alongside PP ministers they purport to loathe.
Either way, conservativism in Spain has shown itself in these elections to remain significantly stronger than the forces for change.