MADRID (Reuters) – Spain’s far-right Vox party more than doubled its number of lawmakers in the country’s fourth national election in four years, which delivered a highly fragmented parliament, according to a near-final tally with more than 95% of the votes counted.
The Socialists of acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who had gambled that a repeat parliamentary election would strengthen his hand, finished first but with fewer seats than in the previous ballot in April and further away from a majority.
The figures pointed to a legislative stalemate with neither the left nor right having a majority.
The outcome will require party leaders to be creative, negotiate seriously this time and, for some, swallow their pride.
The most likely outcome appeared to be a minority Socialist government. The bigger question would be who its allies could be and how long such a government could last in a very fragmented parliament.
With more than 95% of votes counted, the conservative People’s Party (PP) was second and Vox third.
At this stage, Vox could get around 52 seats, up from the 24 seats with which it debuted in parliament in April. The increase in the number of votes was much smaller.
Spain had long appeared immune to a nationalist surge that has swept through other parts of Europe in recent elections, with many still remembering the military dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.
But anger with political gridlock and with secessionist unrest in Catalonia appeared to have significantly boosted Vox’s popularity.
“I feel very excited that there is a resurgence of values in Spain and this party seems to me the only one that defends them,” Maria Dolores Cuevas, a 68-year pensioner, said at Vox headquarters.
France’s far-right party leader Marine Le Pen congratulated Vox on Twitter, praising what she called his “staggering progress.”
Casting her ballot for the Socialists in Madrid earlier in the day, 64-year old retired history teacher Esperanza de Antonio called the party a danger to democracy.
“I’m saying this because I’ve taught about fascism for 30 years,” she told Reuters. Franco ruled Spain as an autocrat from 1939 to 1975, when he died.
Following decades after Franco’s death during which power oscillated between the Socialists and the PP, Spain has struggled to put stable governments together since new parties, latterly including Vox, emerged from the financial crisis.
Higher abstention rates on Sunday showed that voters are tired of being called repeatedly to the ballot box and that, if nothing else, that could help the parties reach a deal on forming a government.
According to the partial results, the Socialists were pegged at just over 28% and poised to win around 120 seats, just down from 123 they secured in the 350-seat house in April.
There seemed to be three possibilities to reach the 176-seat majority in parliament, all of them fraught with difficulties.
One would see PP abstain and allow Sanchez to lead a minority government.
Another would gather the majority that toppled the conservatives in a corruption scandal last year and first allowed Sanchez to become prime minister. But that would require Catalan separatist lawmakers to back Sanchez, which would be hard to imagine at a time of such tensions with Catalonia.
A third option would be that market-friendly Ciudadanos, whose share of the vote was sharply down, would support the Socialists, alongside several regionalist parties.
Sanchez called the election betting that a new vote would strengthen his party’s hand in negotiations after failing to forge the alliances needed to form a government on the basis of the April result.
Reporting by Jesus Aguado, Ashifa Kassam, Clara-Laeila Laudette, Joanna Jonczyk-Gwizdala, Emma Pinedo, Joan Faus, Elena Rodriguez, Jessica Jones, Nathan Allen, Belen Carreno, Jesus Aguado; Writing by Andrei Khalip and Ingrid Melander; Editing by John Stonestreet and Daniel Wallis