Spain's general election: What just happened?

Katya Adler
Europe editor
@BBCkatyaadleron Twitter

image copyrightAFP
image captionVox, led by Santiago Abascal, will take seats in parliament for the first time

After weeks of Spain's resurgent far right hogging all the headlines, didn't the centre-left just win a resounding victory?

Did Spaniards have a last-minute change of heart? What does this all mean?

Spain's Socialist party members will certainly have the biggest smiles on their faces this morning. But landslide victory this was not.

The party improved massively on its last performance in national elections. It managed to take control of Spain's upper house of parliament too, but still lacks a majority to govern.

Financial markets and the EU would ideally like to see the Socialists now jump into bed with the centre-right Citizens' party (which prefers to describe itself as "liberal") but a more likely Socialist party partnership is with populist left Podemos, with added support from Basque and possibly Catalan parties.

That is something that many Spaniards - who are still smarting from Catalonia's brief but defiant declaration of independence - will resent.

The recent push for Catalan independence and the perceived failure of Spain's traditional politicians to handle the situation is what suddenly drew large numbers of voters to the populist nationalist Vox party.

It promised to "make Spain great again" - a familiar-sounding slogan, just as its tough stance on Islam, on crime and on immigration has echoes of France's Le Pen and Italy's Salvini.

But unlike many of Europe's populist nationalists, Vox failed to seduce disillusioned workers traditionally voting for the left.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionSpain's incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez delivered a victory speech in Madrid

Spain is a country that has been deeply divided between right and left since the country's civil war back in the 1930s.

The idea of a far-right party in Spain's parliament - possibly even in government - for the first time since the death of fascist military dictator Francisco Franco, sickened large sections of Spanish society.

You hear a number of voters saying it is not so much that they voted for the Socialists, but rather that they voted against Vox.

In the end, Vox managed to win 24 parliamentary seats, roughly what polls had predicted, but the result fell far short of the political earthquake they had hoped for.

Arguably their most dramatic achievement was to splinter Spain's political right, leaving the normally powerful centre-right, the now rather ironically-named Popular Party, humiliated.

Spain's exhausted electorate now limps towards municipal, regional and European elections in a month's time.

Deep political divisions seem to be the new normal in Europe - just take a look at France, Italy or the UK.

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