Spain’s emergency general election: From ‘Frankenstein’ to ‘Francostein’? 2023

Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s prime minister, scheduled a July 23 snap election. The election might bring the far-right back to power in Spain for the first time since Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, according to Paul Kennedy and David Cutts.

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, again surprised everyone, including his own party, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), when he announced on the morning after the PSOE’s disastrous regional and local election results on 28 May that the general election would be moved up five months to 23 July.

After becoming prime minister the previous year as the only political leader to win a vote of confidence, he called successive general elections in April and November 2019, ousting the corrupt centre-right People’s Party (PP).

Sánchez’s audacity in leading a party with only 84 of 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies shows how skilled he was at garnering support from other parties to unseat Mariano Rajoy.

In the face of significant criticism from prominent PSOE figures, Sánchez had little choice but to show a willingness to compromise with other parties in a volatile and fast-moving environment that had replaced a two-party system that dated back to the 1980s.

Former party leader Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba called the December 2019 coalition government with Pablo Iglesias’ anti-austerity Unidas Podemos a “Frankenstein” cabinet.

The supposedly unnatural coalition has succeeded in neutralizing Mariano Rajoy’s tense situation in Catalonia, steering the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and securing EU funding for recovery, and pursuing a relatively progressive economic policy that received praise from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – inflation had fallen to below 3% at the time.

Under Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, pensions and the minimum wage were raised, and the 2012 PP Labour Reform was repealed. That victory helped Díaz become leader of Sumar, a left-wing political movement.

Resurgent right

The coalition administration did not fare well in the 28 May municipal and regional elections. Explain the result? Despite the normal difficulties of translating local surveys to a general election, the results confirm Spanish politics’ growing polarization.

First, the right did well in the last three major regional elections in Madrid (May 2021), Castille and Leon (February 2022), and Andalusia (June 2022). After the July general election, relations with Madrid’s populist regional President, Isabel Ayuso, who won an overall majority at the May 2023 regional election, will be worth watching.

Under Feijóo, the PP has reestablished its dominance in a right bloc that is now ahead of the left. The collapse of the centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) and the transfer of its vote to the PP, seemingly en masse, led to the party gaining an overall majority at the local level in Madrid and taking control of key regions like Valencia and Seville, a longtime socialist stronghold.

After its dismal performance in the May 2023 local and regional elections, Ciudadanos decided not to run in the July general election, which will benefit the PP.

While Vox made steady progress (about a four-percentage point rise nationwide) with notable wins in Murcia and the Balearic Islands, the PP under Feijóo has been generally effective at slowing its growth, cementing its right-wing dominance.

Feijóo’s moderation hasn’t stopped him from adopting populist, culture war views from the Ayuso playbook and personalizing assaults (calling the coalition’s progressive policies and operation “Sanchismo”) to exploit Sánchez’s polarizing popularity. Such efforts seem to be working against the “left coalition’s” popular social and economic changes.

In the wake of the Catalan crisis of autumn 2017, the right has effectively positioned itself as the custodian of “Spanishness” and created a powerful narrative that opposes perceived internal separatist dangers to the nation.

Feijóo’s relentless criticism of the coalition government’s dependence on pro-independence Catalan parties has tapped into these deep insecurities in the Spanish electorate and entrenched two hostile political blocs. Vox was the initial beneficiary.

Feijóo’s accusation that the PSOE is hand-in-glove with the latest incarnation of the political arm of the defunct terrorist organization, ETA, (an accusation which obtained a degree of justification when the party in question.

Bildu, chose to stand seven candidates in the May 2023 local elections who had been involved in terrorist activities before almost immediately withdrawing them, such was the furore) allowed the PP to dominate political discourse throughout the year.

The government’s botched August 2022 sexual consent bill, which cut punishments for some offenders, helped the PP.

2023 general election

The coalition wryly noted that the PP rarely commented on its handling of the economy, implying that Sánchez’s government had some economic success despite the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the May 2023 municipal and regional elections, Sánchez’s PSOE received 28% of the vote, the same as at the November 2019 federal election. The PSOE needs its left-wing partners to keep their support to continue the coalition government after July’s national election.

Yolanda Díaz’s Sumar initiative has drawn support from the communist-dominated United Left, Más País, Pablo Iglesias’s former right-hand man, Áigo Errejón, and Compromís, the Valencia-based electoral coalition.

Podemos is absent, but its current precarious state – exacerbated by its failure to promote a coherent programme and dispel suspicions that Pablo Iglesias still calls the shots despite having officially stepped down from the leadership in May 2021 – suggests that it would be expedient for it to join Sumar before the coalition registration deadline in early June. Electoral oblivion is likely.

Sumar may be able to compensate for the PSOE’s deficit, but their struggle for leftist supporters poses risks for both parties.

Meanwhile, the PP promotes its own upward trajectory, despite the likelihood that it will only be able to form a government after the July general election with the support of the far-right Vox, whose Spanish nationalist, pro-Franco, verging-on-the-misogynist rhetoric will give moderate voters pause.

Yolanda Diaz’s warning of “Feijóo’s black Spain” may also motivate left-leaning progressives to vote. Feijóo will hope that the PP and Vox votes combined will provide the 176 parliamentary seats needed for an overall majority, as regionalist parties are unlikely to support Vox due to its opposition to regional devolution.

So another general election is possible. Feijóo and Vox’s Santiago Abascal will bring the far-right to power for the first time since Franco’s death in 1975. Thus, Spain will go from Frankenstein to Francostein.

Add a Comment