Spain’s political future is uncertain after the snap election on Sunday resulted in a hung parliament, with no clear majority for either the left-wing or the right-wing bloc. The outcome has revived the issue of Catalan independence, as the separatist parties could hold the key to breaking the deadlock and forming a government.
The conservative People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox won the most seats in parliament with a combined 169, just short of the 176 needed for a majority. The ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and the far-left Sumar secured 153 seats, but have more possibilities for negotiating support from small Basque and Catalan nationalist parties, as they did following the 2019 election.
However, one of the potential allies for the PSOE is the hardline Catalan separatist party Junts, led by Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan regional president who fled to Belgium after leading a failed push to split Catalonia from Spain in 2017. Puigdemont, who still faces arrest if he returns to Spain, could demand concessions on independence in exchange for his party’s support or abstention in a confidence vote for PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez.
Sánchez has tried to ease the tensions in Catalonia since he took office in 2018, by pardoning nine jailed separatist leaders, reforming the penal code to eliminate the crime of sedition, and engaging in dialogue with the pro-independence Catalan administration. However, these moves have been criticized by the PP and Vox, who accuse him of betraying national unity and appeasing separatists.
Junts has not conveyed a clear position on whether it would back Sánchez or not, but has vowed to use the “window of opportunity” created by the election impasse to achieve Catalan independence. Puigdemont has said recently that Junts would not support Sánchez because he was unreliable.
The Catalan independence issue has been a source of division and conflict in Spain since 2017, when an illegal referendum was held in Catalonia and a unilateral declaration of independence was made by the regional parliament. The Spanish government responded by imposing direct rule in Catalonia and prosecuting several separatist leaders for rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
The election result has shown that Spain remains polarized over the territorial question, as well as over other issues such as immigration, feminism, corruption and the economy. The country faces a period of political uncertainty and instability, as no party has an easy path to form a government. A new election may lie ahead if no agreement is reached within two months.