The results of the general elections in the Spanish state yesterday, Sunday, brought disappointment for the left.
Opinion polls and even exit polls predicted significant gains for the left, with a coalition of Podemos and United Left overtaking the Labour-type Socialist Party (PSOE).
Instead the coalition, Unidos Podemos (Together We Can), lost over a million votes and remain third with 71 MPs. PSOE, expected to do badly, maintained its support with 85 MPs—down just five.
The real winners are the conservative People’s Party (PP) with 137 MPs. It regained 400,000 votes from the new right wing “centre” party Ciudadanos.
The decline of the two party system based on the PP and PSOE has had a respite. But it is still far from the 80 percent of votes both parties shared since the early 1980s.
So why were the polls so wrong? And why didn’t Unidos Podemos make the breakthrough?
It is clear that for whatever reason some voters were ashamed to admit who they had voted for. But the real reasons are more complex.
Unidos Podemos was the target of a vicious campaign by the other parties, based on anti-communism and the idea that the coalition was financed by Venezuela.
This probably had some impact on PSOE voters.
Faced with the polarization of the campaign, older voters in particular turned out in greater numbers to back the traditional parties.
It is also possible that the panic around Brexit helped the PP as a guarantee of “stability”.
But more important was the confusion surrounding Unidos Podemos’s programme.
Despite some left rhetoric in election rallies, its leader Pablo Iglesias repeatedly insisted that UP were the “true social democrats”.
He underlined the need to form a government with the PSOE.
The PSOE in turn denounced Iglesias for having blocked the possibility of kicking out PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy in December. Then the PSOE proposed a government based on themselves, Ciudadanos and Podemos.
In office the PSOE presided over the mass destruction of jobs, workers’ rights and public services. To present it as an indispensable ally in bringing about “change” probably cost Unidos Podemos many of the votes it lost.
UP defended the need for a referendum in Catalonia on independence. The other parties singled this out as being “against the constitution”.
Iglesias had previously denounced the constitution as needing to be thoroughly revised. Now he defended it and “patriotism”, only adding to the confusion.
Everything now points to a coalition headed by the PP. A coalition involving the PSOE, Ciudadanos and UP is also a mathematical possibility.
The European Union has already announced that any new government will have to carry out a new package of cuts and austerity to reduce the deficit.
The failure of Unidos Podemos to overtake the PSOE also eliminates even the vague possibility of the Spanish parliament allowing a referendum over Catalan independence.
Despite the disappointment of the election results, Podemos has had unprecedented successes in barely two years of existence.
It still managed to win in Catalonia and the Basque Country and sustained much of its support in other areas.
To build on this it needs, with United Left and other forces, to turn to the streets and lead opposition.