Leader of Spain’s Socialist Party wins by two-vote margin to remain Prime Minister

By: Joseph Lyttleton

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On Tuesday, January 7, Spain’s congress narrowly voted to reelect Pedro Sánchez, leader of the nation’s Socialist Party, as the nation’s prime minister. Sánchez had been acting as the country’s caretaker prime minister since June 2, 2018, after the previous prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, resigned following a no confidence vote. 

Between Rajoy’s resignation and Tuesday’s vote, Spain had held two general elections, one in April 2019 and the second in November 2019.

Two separate votes in congress

Sánchez received 167 votes in favor of his being reelected prime minister, enough to secure his win. The results had been expected. There were 165 votes against him with 18 voting to abstain from voting. Sánchez is the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (known as the PSOE, from its Spanish name, Partido Socialista Obrero Español).

Tuesday’s vote followed a prior vote on Sunday in which Sánchez failed to attain the 176 votes necessary to win the majority of Spain’s 350 parliamentary seats. In the second vote, Sánchez only needed to receive more yes votes than no votes. 

Sánchez will lead a coalition government made up of his party and a number of smaller parties in order to maintain his government’s thin majority in Spain’s Congress of Deputies.

Two elections in Spain

On November 10, 2019, Spain held a general election in which all the seats in the country’s Congress of Deputies were up for a vote. Though the PSOE won the most seats in that election, their number was not enough to secure a majority. This result mirrored the April election from earlier in the year. In that election, the PSOE received 123 seats out of 350. In November, it received 120.

After the April election, in which the PSOE had been unable to assemble a coalition government, a new election was called. Voter turnout decreased from the April election to the November election from 75.5% to 69.9%.

The most notable difference between the elections was the rise of Vox, Spain’s far-right political party. In April, the party received 24 seats, whereas in November their number rose to 52, making it the third largest party in congress.

Spain’s major political parties

While Spain has many political parties, five parties played central roles in November’s election. After the PSOE, the next largest bloc was for the country’s center-right People’s Party (PP), which received 89 votes. Following Vox’s third place results, the next most popular party was United We Can (known as the UP, from its Spanish name, Unidas Podemos) with 35 votes.

UP, a populist party that has drawn supporters from the far left, refused to form a coalition with the PSOE in April, but after November’s election the two parties aligned.

The fifth largest vote-getter in November’s election was the Catalan Republican Left (known as the ERC, from its Spanish name, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya) with 13 seats. The ERC, which is seeking Catalonia’s independence from Spain, agreed to abstain from voting for prime minister. This allowed Sánchez to win the majority. In return, Sánchez agreed to continue negotiations related to Catalan independence