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The Anatomy of Spain’s Political Paralysis

The collapse of the main conservative party in last month's election, combined with the Socialists' failure to secure a parliamentary majority, has left the country's politics in limbo. All eyes are now on the new leader of the right, Ciudadanos, a party that has little to gain from being in the spotlight.

NEW YORK – Having won last month’s election with 123 of 350 parliamentary seats, Spain’s Socialists, led by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, will now seek to govern. Sánchez will need the support of the far-left Podemos party, as well as the acquiescence of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties. But no one should expect him to form a government anytime soon. Spain’s endless cycle of indecisive elections continues.

Spain owes its political paralysis to several factors. Foremost, the main conservative force, the People’s Party (PP), has collapsed. In the context of Spanish politics, that development alone is cataclysmic. In the four decades since the country’s transition from dictatorship, the PP has reconciled the Spanish right to democracy and ensured that it supports the 1978 constitution, which broke with 300 years of political tradition by radically decentralizing the Spanish state.

The election wiped out over 50% of the PP’s parliamentary representation (which will fall from 137 to 66 seats), after the party lost votes in equal measure to Ciudadanos and Vox. Ciudadanos, a center-right liberal party founded in Catalonia to oppose secession, is staunchly constitutionalist, and something of a novelty in Spanish politics: the first viable national party whose main leaders live in Barcelona and speak Catalan. It is also reformist, advocating institutional reforms to ensure the welfare state’s long-term sustainability. It is the closest analog Europe has to French President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche !

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