Will the Center Prevail in the Spanish Elections?

The Coalition That Could Keep Radicalism at Bay

Spanish Prime Minister Pédro Sánchez of Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos are pictured before a televised debate in Sebastian de los Reyes outside Madrid, April 2019 Juan Medina / REUTERS

In the United States, growing polarization and the election of President Donald Trump have made it commonplace to bemoan the disappearance of the political center. In Spain, too, political polarization has become a serious problem, especially since the Catalan separatist crisis of 2017. This was Spain’s gravest political crisis since the demise of the Franco dictatorship in the mid-1970s, which plunged the country into an uncertain democratic transition. It was also the most polarizing event in decades. With the first general election since the crisis erupted taking place this Sunday, then, one would think that the prospects for a centrist victory would be dismal. Yet that is not the case.

Although the Catalan crisis has fed extremism across the political spectrum, it has at the same time unleashed a palpable desire for political moderation within the electorate and for keeping at bay those forces peddling radicalism. That, combined with an increasingly fragmented party system, gives centrism a real chance to prevail after April 28.


Judging at least by the pages of El País, Spain’s leading newspaper, the most talked-about potential centrist coalition is the conjoining of the Spanish Workers’ Socialist Party, or PSOE, the party currently in power, and ahead in the polls with about 30 percent of the vote, and Ciudadanos, or Citizens, a relatively new center-right party presently running third in the polls with 16 percent. Founded in Barcelona in 2006 on an anti-corruption platform, Ciudadanos is best known today for its opposition to Catalan independence. Coming from a Catalan party, this opposition has endeared Ciudadanos to Spaniards who value national unity above any other political issue. Indeed, Ciudadanos is currently challenging the Popular Party, or PP, which is running second in the polls with 20 percent of the vote, as Spain’s leading right-wing party.

According to El País, the collective PSOE/Ciudadanos vote, paired with the vote of Compromís, a regional coalition of progressive parties that supports the PSOE, could net as many as 180 seats. This would

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