Spain’s Socialists See Gains in Three Elections

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of Spain, center, with the foreign minister, Josep Borrell, in Madrid on Sunday. A strong showing by the Socialists in three elections strengthened Mr. Sánchez’s hand as he seeks to form a new government.CreditCreditPierre-Philippe Marcou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

MADRID — Spanish Socialists made important gains on Sunday in three different elections, strengthening the hand of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez as he seeks to form a new government.

A month ago, Mr. Sánchez won a national election, but without enough of a margin for his Socialist party to gain a parliamentary majority. He then placed his hopes on Sunday’s triple elections, hoping that a strong showing would give him more leverage in government negotiations with smaller parties.

Spaniards on Sunday were electing more than 8,000 mayors and new governments in 12 of Spain’s 17 regions, as well as Spanish members of the European Parliament. The Socialists won the most votes in 10 of the 12 regions, according to provisional results, putting them on a path to have the largest Spanish representation within the European Parliament.

“This result strengthens the position of Sánchez, giving him a lot more arguments to form a government on his own,” said Luis Bouza, a professor of politics at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

The elections put the brakes on the ascendance of Vox, the ultranationalist and anti-migration party that made its election breakthrough in the region of Andalusia last December and went on to win its first seats in Parliament in April, capturing 10 percent of the votes nationwide.

Still, Vox won enough votes on Sunday to play a kingmaker role in some municipal and regional parliaments. Vox also got its first seats in the European Parliament, although with nowhere near the representation of some other far-right parties, like that of Marine Le Pen in France.

Without waiting for the final results, Mr. Sánchez celebrated what he described as the Socialists’ victory “by a long distance” in the elections. Although it could take time to determine which coalitions will govern some cities and regions, Mr. Sánchez called on right-leaning parties not to ally themselves with Vox to prevent empowering ultranationalist politicians.

At a time when Socialist parties have suffered severe setbacks across Europe, Mr. Sánchez underlined the success of his party in the European election, which he said would give Spain “the opportunity” to play a stronger role in European policymaking and demand more representation within the European Union’s main institutions.

“We will construct a social Europe,” he told supporters.

While municipal and regional elections dominated the debate in Spain, they coincided this year with voting for the European Parliament, which saw Spanish turnout for the European elections rise by about 15 percentage points compared with the last vote in 2014.

But Sunday’s election did not result in a repeat of the near-record 76 percent turnout for the national election on April 28, when concerns about the emergence of Vox also helped mobilize left-wing voters.

In fact, far-left incumbent mayors lost tight elections in Spain’s two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona. In Madrid, the capital, Manuela Carmena, a 75-year-old former Communist and retired judge, said she would resign after winning the most votes on Sunday, but not enough to prevent a right-leaning coalition from ousting her from city hall.

In Barcelona, the regional capital of Catalonia, another far-left mayor, Ada Colau, was narrowly defeated by a separatist politician, Ernest Maragall, representing the Esquerra Republicana party. The election was seen as a bellwether for the Catalan secessionist movement, almost two years after its botched attempt to declare independence. Manuel Valls, a former prime minister of France who was born in Barcelona, came in a distant fourth.

The Socialists secured 20 of the 54 seats granted to Spanish lawmakers within the European Parliament, according to preliminary results, up from the 14 seats that the Socialists had previously held.

“It’s tempting to make generalizations about European politics and talk about the rise of the populists and the eurosceptics and how voters use the European elections to punish their governments,” said Aleksandra Sojka, a Polish fellow in political sociology at the Carlos III University in Madrid. “But there are clearly exceptions — and one of them is Spain.”.

Still, the European Parliament election has also put Spain’s territorial conflict in Catalonia into the spotlight, and Sunday’s vote is likely to be followed by a legal dispute over whether indicted Catalan separatists can seek European parliamentary immunity after winning a seat in the European assembly.

A former leader of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, was elected on Sunday to the European Parliament, as was his former deputy in the Catalan government, Oriol Junqueras. Mr. Puigdemont has been living in Brussels to avoid prosecution in Spain, while Mr. Junqueras is among the jailed politicians who are now on trial before the Spanish Supreme Court. Spanish prosecutors want to sentence Mr. Junqueras to 25 years in prison on charges of rebellion and other crimes for helping lead Catalonia’s failed attempt to secede in 2017 after staging an unconstitutional referendum.

Sunday’s election puts into question the survival of Pablo Iglesias as leader of the far-left Unidas Podemos party. Having transformed Podemos into Spain’s third-largest party in 2015, Mr. Iglesias has more recently presided over the fracturing of his party as well as election setbacks.

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