Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez was trailing his conservative rival Alberto Núñez Feijóo in the country’s general election on Sunday night, but the race was unexpectedly close with more than 90 per cent of the vote counted.
The preliminary results defied the predictions of most pollsters that Feijóo’s People’s party would comfortably oust the incumbent Socialist leader in alliance with the hard-right Vox party, but results could still change significantly once the final count is in.
With 93.1 per cent of the vote counted, Feijóo’s PP was on course to be the largest party with 136 seats in Spain’s 350-seat congress, but it fell short of the outright majority needed to take office and even in alliance with Vox, with 33 seats, would not reach the 176-seat threshold.
Sánchez was in second place with his Socialists on 122 seats, but could have a chance to stay in office by reaching an absolute majority in alliance with the new leftwing party Sumar and Catalan and Basque nationalist parties, which have voted with the prime minister since 2018.
The close race signalled that Spain could be set for weeks or months of messy negotiations over potential parliamentary deals, or face repeat elections, as occurred after inconclusive elections in 2015 and 2019.
Sánchez, 51, called the snap general election after his party suffered a resounding defeat in municipal and regional elections at the end of May, gambling that he would perform better in July than if he waited until the expected election date in December.
He had predicted that he would win “against the odds” and in the final days of the campaign amplified his warnings about the dangers of a potential PP-Vox coalition, which he said would drag the country from 2023 back to “1973”.
Vox, led by Santiago Abascal, 47, denies human-driven climate change, opposes Muslim immigration, disputes the idea of gender-based violence and wants to scrap a law that cements LGBT+ rights.
Feijóo, 61, centred his campaign on a personal critique of “Sanchismo”, which he defined as a political creed of “lies, manipulation and nastiness”. He launched fierce attacks on Sánchez’s controversial political alliances with pro-independence parties from Catalonia and the Basque country, which had enabled the prime minister to pass his landmark legislative reforms.