Spaniards will walk into 2016 not knowing what kind of government awaits them. We will walk into the year without knowing if Mariano Rajoy will be in power once again, if the country will be ruled by a left-wing coalition led by the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), or if we'll have to go back to the polls in May. The 20D vote has thus opened the door to no less than three extremely complex and uncertain scenarios. The only certainty about this election is that the country broke with its past.
"It will be necessary to engage in much more dialogue and to reach consensus," Mariano Rajoy said from the Genova Balcony. This time, three million voters protested by turning their backs on the People's Party. But do not underestimate their victory: despite corruption scandals and the financial cuts that accompanied the crisis, the People's Party still gained the most votes. While their 123 parliamentary seats are not enough to rule, they do form a virtually impenetrable fortress that hinders aspirations for weaving together an alternative government.
"The absolute majority they've enjoyed for the past four years makes it difficult to rebuild bridges with other political forces."
The People's Party has also secured an absolute majority in the Senate-- another challenge for smaller rivals. Rajoy's party can count on the abstention of 40 deputies from the Ciudadanos, which will be represented in Congress for the first time. But they will also need the abstention of PSOE deputies to form a government. Their wish to form a "stable government," therefore, seems unrealistic. The absolute majority they've enjoyed for the past four years makes it difficult to rebuild bridges with other political forces. Difficult, but not impossible. That is why the six deputies from the Basque National Party have already become an unexpected object of desire for the conservatives of the People's Party and for other political forces.
With 69 deputies, Podemos enters the parliament with the force of a typhoon. It is true that they've failed to advance their dream of beating PSOE --they gained less votes and earned less seats-- but the campaign waged by Pablo Iglesias, and its social and cultural reach, will be studied in political literature all across the continent. As a coalition, they surprisingly became the primary force in Catalonia, and the second force in the Basque Country, Madrid, Valencia, Navarre, the Balearic Islands, and Galicia. They hold the key to forming a left-wing government if Rajoy fails in his endeavor. That is why it's curious that Iglesias, on election night, came out to say that the constitutional amendments that Podemos calls for are non-negotiable. Spouting red lines before the conversation begins? Already? As a gesture towards Catalonia, it's understandable, but the results obtained by the People's Party make it arithmetically impossible to push forward a constitutional amendment without their support.
For socialists, the 90 seats they earned on 20D are a major disappointment--tempered by the fact that expectations were even worse during the campaign. The PSOE lost 1.5 million voters. It is now the fourth force in Madrid, and the third in Catalonia. It came out on top in Andalusia once again, and --one of the paradoxes of the new Parliament-- Pedro Sánchez could become the government's president. For the time being, that saves the party from its internal enemies. But nonetheless, it remains with its back against the wall. There is a PSOE that is willing to form a left-wing government regardless of the cost, and there's another PSOE that can't stand Podemos, and that will allow a popular government as a lesser evil. Besides, pressure --mainly external-- will push for a German-style grand coalition with the People's Party, so as to supposedly avoid instability and the panic that might hit financial markets.
"But nothing is set in stone. We are searching for a president, in Spain, and in Catalonia."
Speaking of IBEX-35, the Spanish exchange index, Albert Rivera spent his whole campaign denying that Ciudadanos was created by major economic powers that were worried about the rise of Podemos. They gradually lost momentum, and they are now victims of the overblown expectations generated by initial polls. Their 40 seats reek of failure--even though being the fourth political force in this unpredictable political scenario still counts for something.
All scenarios need time to come together, so the spotlight will, for now, shine on Catalonia instead. In the next few days, the situation must be resolved: either the Popular Unity Candidacy relents and allows the investiture of Artur Mas, or there will be a call for new elections. The victory of EnComú Podem (12 deputies) and the Republican Left of Catalonia (9 deputies), along with the blow dealt to the Democratic Convergence of Catalonia --which lost half of its seats and is now relegated to the fourth political force-- has given urgency to operation "Saving Private Mas."
But nothing is set in stone. We are searching for a president, in Spain, and in Catalonia. Welcome to a state of raging emotions. Welcome to a new political era.
This piece was originally published on HuffPost Spain and was translated into English.