Breakingviews - Spanish election half-solves political paralysis

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist Workers' Party speaks to supporter while celebrating the result in Spain's general election in Madrid, Spain, April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has reasons to both cheer and sigh after Sunday’s general election. The Socialist leader secured a stronger political mandate, but faces lengthy negotiations with possible partners to form a new government. After a third vote in four years, Spain has only a partial solution to its political gridlock.

Sanchez’s party won 123 of the 350 parliamentary seats, up from just 85. His conservative rival People’s Party (PP) lost about half its seats, ending with 66, as the Catalan anti-separatist Ciudadanos and far-right Vox picked up support.

That result leaves Sanchez in a stronger position. The 47-year-old came to power last June after a no-confidence vote against the previous conservative minority government, which was weakened by a corruption scandal. In the months that followed, he was unable to secure the support of pro-independence Catalan parties which formed part of the so-called Frankenstein coalition he needed to pass a budget, forcing him to call an election.

Though still well short of the 176 seats needed for a majority, Sanchez is now clearly the only leader capable of forming a government. The Socialists have as many seats as the next two largest parties combined, while an alternative right-wing trio of PP, Ciudadanos and Vox could only muster 147. The question is which parties Sanchez approaches to help him form a government.

Financial markets would probably react best to a coalition between Sanchez and Albert Rivera, the economically liberal and pro-European Union Ciudadanos leader. Together they would control 180 seats. A deal seems unlikely, however, since the two have sharply differing views on Catalonia, which dominated the election campaign. Sanchez favours dialogue with separatists; Rivera is staunchly opposed.

That makes a revamped Frankenstein coalition the most plausible option. Together with Podemos, a leftist grouping and recent ally of the Socialists, Sanchez would have 165 seats in parliament. He would once again need the support of small regional groups and possibly a moderate Catalan independence party to get over the line – or at least a promise to abstain on key votes. The difference this time, however, is that Sanchez is in a stronger negotiating position. For a political system that’s been close to gridlock for years, that counts as progress.


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