Why not a Grand Coalition Between PP and PSOE in Spain?

by Lorraine Williamson

MADRID – Post the general elections on July 23 in Spain, the lingering question remains: Who will take the reins? Will it be a right-wing coalition led by the conservative Partido Popular (PP) or a left-wing coalition helmed by the social democrats of the PSOE? 

While the Partido Popular emerged victorious, their seat count falls short of a decisive majority. As such, the quest for coalition partners has intensified. The third most influential party, Vox, leans far-right and could push the PP over the required threshold. However, the PP’s inclination is to sidestep Vox due to previous complications in regional and local governments where the two parties collaborated. In contrast, the PSOE might find their majority through an alliance with Catalan nationalists – a decision that also has its critics. But how do Spaniards feel about a potential PP-PSOE alliance? The Fundacion BBVA delves deeper. 

PP and PSOE partnership “unlikely” 

Their survey divulges that 58% of Spaniards are amenable to a coalition between the PP and PSOE. However, a staggering 84% view such a partnership as unlikely, attributing this scepticism to the enduring polarisation rooted in the Spanish Civil War’s left-right divide, which persisted during Franco’s reign until his death in 1975. 

Centrist voters, in particular, are strong proponents of this “grand coalition,” with 71% endorsing the idea. However, the sentiment dips to 60% among right-wing and 54% among left-wing voters. 

Interestingly, only 23% of the populace prefers a single-party rule, whereas a significant 60% lean towards a coalition government. However, the feasibility of cross-ideological agreements is doubted by 52% of respondents. 

Public faith in political entities 

Public faith in political entities is waning, with 87% suspecting internal corruption and 63% feeling unrepresented. Contrarily, institutions like the police and army retain public trust. 

Concerning the state structure, the status quo is preferred by 46% of participants, with only 10% advocating for abolishing autonomous regions. 

When it comes to the Spanish constitution, while 10% find it satisfactory, another 10% consider it archaic, necessitating a complete overhaul. 

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Moreover, citizens predominantly voice concerns about unemployment, economic downturns, and inflation. Nonetheless, a positive personal outlook is maintained by 61% of those polled. 

Is a ‘grand coalition’ between PP and PSOE viable in Spain? 

In light of global instances where dominant parliamentary parties have joined forces, can Spain emulate such models? The recent elections have spotlighted the Spanish majority’s aversion to political extremism, consequently gravitating towards the two primary parties, and thereby reinvigorating a dual-party system amidst prevailing uncertainties. 

Current indicators, fortified by statements from PP’s Alberto Núñez Feijóo and PSOE’s Pedro Sánchez, suggest that a coalition is improbable. Feijóo has persistently urged the incumbent Prime Minister Sánchez to let the most-voted faction govern. 

With the PP securing 33.05% votes and 136 seats, and the PSOE amassing 31.7% votes with 122 seats, both parties are witnessing growth. The parties bearing the brunt are Vox and Sumar, having 33 and 31 representatives, respectively. Feijóo’s suggestion for Sánchez to abstain during the investiture vote, allowing PP solo governance sans Vox, seems implausible. 

An alternate scenario – currently off the table – visualises a PP-led government with Sánchez as the vice president, with the executive body comprising members from both sides: a ‘grand coalition’. 

Three governance models in modern democracy 

Spain’s post-dictatorship 1977 elections have witnessed three governance models: governments with an absolute majority (PSOE and PP alternating), minority governments with parliamentary backing, and minority coalition governments with such support. The last being the present interim coalition of PSOE and Unidas Podemos. Notably, ‘grand coalitions’ are yet to find ground. 

In Spain, left-right ideological rifts run deep. Political animosity and electoral discord exacerbate this divide. Even the pandemic-induced crisis was marred by blame games rather than collaborative efforts. Fields like education, healthcare, justice, and the economy are testimonies to the scant agreements between the factions. 

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