10 June 2016

A couple of weeks ago, Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), told a conference of businesspeople that “there won’t be a third [general] election. There will be a government after June 26.” Unfortunately for him, he is looking increasingly less likely to lead it.

The most recent opinion polls all suggest that Unidos Podemos (UP) – the new ticket comprised of the anti-establishment Podemos and the hard-left Izquierda Unida (IU) – would be the second most voted for in the upcoming re-run election, overtaking PSOE as the main left-wing force in Spain.

The latest CIS poll, published yesterday, was particularly interesting (the graph is from El País).

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According to this survey, the centre-right Partido Popular (PP) of caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would win between 118 and 121 seats in the lower chamber of the Spanish parliament. The Podemos-IU alliance would grab between 88 and 92 seats, the PSOE between 78 and 80, and the centrist Ciudadanos 38 or 39.

In practice, this means a left-wing bloc including Podemos, PSOE and IU could win up to 172 seats in total – only four short of the 176 needed for an absolute majority. By contrast, PP and Ciudadanos together could secure up to 160. Remember what happened in Portugal? I am sure Rajoy does.

Pick your poison, Pedro

The election campaign kicked off at midnight, so we should not get ahead of ourselves. However, the latest opinion polls seem to confirm what I wrote in late April: of all party leaders, Sánchez would be the one in the toughest spot in this campaign.

If the scenario envisaged by the CIS poll were to materialise, the PSOE would have to decide whether to back a government led by Podemos – an increasingly fearsome rival for hegemony among the left-wing electorate – or let PP stay in power, most likely as a minority government. Essentially a choice between two poisons, although I tend to see the latter as more harmful for PSOE – as it would most certainly cause a haemorrhage of Socialist voters in favour of Podemos.

It goes without saying that ending up as the kingmaker would not be good for Sánchez himself, whose party leadership would come under threat if the PSOE did actually finish third on June 26.

Looking at the bigger picture, and without going too much into the detail of possible post-election pacts, the chance of a left-wing, anti-austerity majority in the next Spanish parliament is indeed increasing. With Spain at risk of facing a fine for breaching EU deficit rules come July, such an outcome would no doubt reignite the debate over the future of Eurozone economic policies.

This alone should be more than enough to make this Spanish election worth watching.