Spain’s political paralysis appeared to deepen on Sunday as the country’s fourth election in four years produced another highly fragmented parliament with the populist far-Right Vox party storming into third place and demanding a crackdown in breakaway region Catalonia.
With more than 99 per cent of votes counted, the Socialist party (PSOE) of acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will once again be the largest group in Congress with 120 seats, almost exactly the same result as in April.
The main conservative opposition Popular Party (PP) made a partial recovery from its worst-ever return of 66 seats in April to win 88 seats in the 350-strong lower house of parliament.
But the night belonged to Vox, a party in favour of expelling all immigrants without legal status and centralising the Spanish state, which more than doubled its representation to 52 seats on 15 per cent of the popular vote just six months after first entering parliament.
Marine Le Pen of France’s far-Right National Front, congratulated Vox leader Santiago Abascal for his party’s “meteoric rise”.
In Italy, Matteo Salvini of the Right-wing League party tweeted a picture of himself next to Mr Abascal with the text "Congratulations to Vox!" above Spanish and Italian flags. And in the Netherlands, anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders also posted a picture of himself and Abascal and wrote "FELICIDADES" – Spanish for congratulations – with three thumbs-up emojis.
“Today a patriotic alternative has been consolidated in Spain, and we demand the restoration of national unity with the application of direct rule in Catalonia,” a jubilant Mr Abascal told a Spanish flag-waving crowd of supporters in Madrid.
Neither the Right-of-centre bloc comprising the PP, Vox and liberal Ciudadanos, which collapsed from 57 seats to just 10, nor the sum of Mr Sánchez’s PSOE and hard-Left Podemos’ 35 seats come close to the elusive majority figure of 176.
Mr Sánchez expressed hope that Ciudadanos and the PP will respect his right to head a new government with a second straight electoral victory, but stark division over how to approach the crisis in Catalonia have made such cross-the-house cooperation unthinkable in recent months.
“This time, no doubt about it, we are going to form a progressive government,” Mr Sánchez told supporters just before midnight in Madrid, adding that the opposition must show “generosity and responsibility to unblock the governability of this country”.
After the election was sparked in September when Mr Sánchez failed to win majority support in Congress, a decision by Spain’s supreme court to jail nine Catalan independence leaders up to 13 years each for organising an unlawful referendum led to violent protests in the region.
Catalan independence parties recorded their best ever results in a general election, securing 23 seats out of 48 on offer.
Pablo Simón, a political analyst from Madrid’s Carlos III University, said Mr Sánchez’s only options are to either seek the support of Catalan pro-independence parties or convince the PP to abstain and lead a minority government.
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