In an outcome celebrated as a rejection of austerity not only in Spain but across the European continent, the Spanish general election Sunday resulted in a splintered parliament, with the conservative People's Party losing significant ground to the anti-austerity Podemos party.
The ruling People's Party, led by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, won the highest number of votes on Sunday but it only obtained 122 seats out of the 350-seat parliament, falling short of the 176 needed for a parliamentary majority—and marking its worst result ever in a general election.
This means Rajoy will have to form a coalition or minority government with the Socialist party, which won 91 seats, or newcomers Podemos and Ciudadanos, which secured 69 and 40 seats respectively. Any of these results could see progressive policies breaking austerity's stranglehold on the country, where the Popular Party government has been pursuing harsh budget cuts and tax increases.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias—who formed the party in January 2014 with a group of fellow leftist university lecturers, inspired by the grassroots protest movement Los Indignados—hailed the birth of "a new Spain."
Addressing supporters in Madrid late Sunday night, Iglesias added: "Spain is not going to be the same again, and we're happy. Our fight against corruption goes ahead."
Meanwhile, Socialist party leader Pedro Sánchez said the results prove voters want a change in political direction, telling a crowd early Monday that "Spain wants a move to the left."
And Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose Syriza party is allied with Podemos, went further than that, heralding the election results on social media as evidence of growing opposition to austerity policies that have swept the European continent.
As Reuters pointed out on Monday, the "outcome was reminiscent of a similar situation in neighboring Portugal, where the incumbent conservatives won an October election but a socialist government backed by far left parties was ultimately sworn in."
Bravo Podemos! A small step that may turn into a large faultline shattering the Eurozone's crisis-denial & austerian contempt for democracy.— Yanis Varoufakis (@yanisvaroufakis) December 21, 2015
According to the Associated Press:
Under the constitution, King Felipe VI will invite a party leader—normally from the party with the most votes—to form a government. The nominee must garner a majority of deputies' votes in Parliament in a first round to take office, or the most votes in the second round.
Deputies take their seats by Jan. 13 but there is no time limit on staging the first vote. If the candidate is not immediately successful, Parliament has two months to elect a prime minister or call a new election.
Among several potential outcomes is a coalition government helmed by Socialist leader Sánchez.
As Guardian correspondent Giles Tremlett writes on Monday: "A Podemos-backed Sánchez government would open a new anti-austerity breach on Europe’s southern flank, as Spaniards reject a new economic model based on low wages and extreme job instability. Unemployment is still 21% in Spain, and the country’s economy is smaller than it was in 2008. A vote for Podemos was also, in a confused and erratic European Union, a vote for increased sovereignty."
Or as the Guardian's Owen Jones wrote in advance of the election, "This election matters—not just for Spain, but for Europe too."