- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2019

The party of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez won the most votes in his divided country’s third general election in four years, but fell short of a majority and now needs to find coalition partners.

Sunday evening’s results showed the governing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, led by Mr. Sanchez, winning 123 parliamentary seats and the far-left Podemos party led by Pablo Iglesias, which is expected to support the prime minister, set to receive 42 seats. That puts Mr. Sanchez 11 seats short of a 176-seat majority in the 350-seat parliament and will force Mr. Sanchez to cobble together a broad coalition to remain in office.

With over 99% of the votes counted, Mr. Sanchez’s party had 29% of the vote, the conservative People’s Party led by Pablo Casado had about 17%, the center-right Citizens Party of Albert Rivera had 16%, Podemos had 14%, and the populist-right Vox party led by Santiago Abascal had 10%.

The Spanish interior ministry reported that 75% of eligible voters turned out to the polls, the highest turnout since Spain returned to a democratic system in 1977. Voters in Catalonia participated in the first national election since 2017’s failed succession attempt, and turnout there increased from nearly 46.4% in 2016 to 64.2%.

After casting his vote, Mr. Sanchez told reporters “after many years of instability and uncertainty, it’s important that today we send a clear, defined message about the Spain we want. And from there a broad parliamentary majority must be built that can support a stable government.”

Mr. Rivera, Citizens’ leader, called out Mr. Sanchez and renewed calls to unseat the prime minister.

“These are not any normal elections,” he said after casting his ballot. “At stake is whether we want to remain united, if we want to continue being free and equal citizens, if we want a Spain that looks to the past or the future, a country of extremes or of moderation.”

The conservative People’s Party is set to lose more than half of its seats — from 137 to 65. Party leader Mr. Casado called the worst ballot result ever for his party “very bad,” saying “we’ve been losing our electoral support for several elections.”

Sunday’s elections came after a government shakeup last year when Mr. Sanchez and his party used a corruption scandal to remove from office former conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, the first Spanish leader to be unseated by a parliamentary rebellion.

But Mr. Sanchez himself has faced pressure in recent months from opponents concerned about his rise to power, underscoring the political division across the country.

He pledged to hold early elections when he assumed office last year but has justified alliances with separatists and the far-left Podemos party as necessary to hold off the “extreme right.”

Conservatives have denounced him for trying to “negotiate away” Spain’s unity and organized a rally of 200,000 people in Madrid earlier this year calling on Mr. Sanchez to resign and hold elections immediately.

Spanish socialists have fared poorly at the polls recently, losing regional elections in Andalucia, a longtime party stronghold last December.

Despite receiving the lowest percentage of support, the far-right Vox party, which opposes multiculturalism, feminism and open migration, made significant gains Sunday as they received about 24 seats in parliament. The party had recently won its first seats in a regional parliament amid growing public skepticism over the government’s immigration policies, but Mr. Sanchez has vowed to stand against the rise of the hard right.

⦁ This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

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