Thanks to massive voter turnout in Spains April 28 general election, especially on the left, far-right parties did not win enough votes to form a coalition government. The ruling Socialist Party will remain in power for now.
Turnout in Spanish general elections, which generally hovers around 66%, was nearly 76% the third-highest in its modern democratic history. Historically, Spaniards only vote in such huge numbers during times of trouble. After an attempted military coup in 1981, nearly 80% of Spaniards turned out to vote in the 1982 general election. In 2004, after al-Qaida bombed Madrids Atocha train station, over 77% came out to vote.
This years unusually high election participation is likely a response to political and economic crisis in Spain. Consecutive governments have failed to manage the economic crisis resulting from the 2008 global financial meltdown and struggled to find nonviolent political solutions to dissent in the independence-minded Catalunya region.
Since 2010, my research shows, Spain has been volatile. Its politics have been dominated by mass protests, separatist movements and mistrust in state institutions, particularly the judiciary with its increasingly political decision-making.
Conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was ousted with a vote of no-confidence in June 2018 following his partys involvement in Spains largest corruption scandal. Prime Minister Pedro Snchez of the center-left Socialist Party replaced him.
On April 28, Spains energized left wing came out en masse to give Snchez and the Socialists a vote of confidence: four years in power.
Spains authoritarian past
That wasnt the expected outcome.
Many political analysts predicted that Vox, an extreme-right party aligned with anti-immigrant forces across Europe, would see a significant share of votes, paving the way for a ruling coalition to form between it, the center-right Popular Party and another young right-wing party called Ciudadanos.
Thats the triple alliance now governing the southern province of Andalusia.
The threat of radical right-wing leadership appears to have mobilized voters in Spain, a young democracy with a chilling history of rightist authoritarianism. Spaniards endured brutality under the right-wing military dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, who ruled the country from 1939 to 1975.
Many of his regimes atrocities which included kidnappings, forced abortions and mass killings of political opponents have been left painfully unresolved in Spain.
For decades since, Spain was considered a place where the far right could get no foothold. Even as extreme right-wing parties grew across Europe, Spains political system after Franco was basically centrist.
The Francoist right voted for the mainstream Popular Party. In recent years it has grown ever more socially conservative, effectively capturing and mainstreaming Spains far right.
Then, in 2006, came Ciudadanos, a right-wing nationalist party. Vox was founded in 2013 by Popular Party defectors with an anti-feminist, anti-gay and anti-immigrant political agenda.
With the rise of new ultra-right parties, Spains once unified right was split in three. As a result, the Popular Party suffered the biggest defeat in its 30-year history, winning just 16.7% of the vote.
That helped the Socialists stay in power nationwide. A progressive ruling alliance between the Socialist Party and the Podemos party, its leftist ally, now seems the likely outcome of the election.
Given the deep fragmentation of parliament, however, an unexpected right-left coalition like that seen in Germany or Frances ruling En Marche party is also possible.
Spains fragile democracy
In his election night victory speech, Prime Minister Snchez said the election results show the strength and quality of Spains political system.
Voters proved that this is a great democracy, he said on April 28 to the crowds celebrating outside the Socialist Partys headquarters in Madrid.
My political research in Spain suggests the contrary. Spanish democracy is increasingly fragile, with its growing polarization, its jailing of Catalan independence leaders and its rising right wing.
Vox won 10% of the vote on Sunday, giving it real power on the national level for the first time. Together, right-wing parties now control 147 of the 350 seats in Spains parliament.
Progressive forces won election day, but Spains political future remains divided.
This story has been corrected to more accurately reflect the political context of Frances current administration.