Spanish election: Socialists again set to fall short of majority

Far-right Vox party in line to double number of seats amid tensions over Catalonia

The eight residents of Villarroya, a small town in Spain's La Rioja, have managed to vote in the country's parlimentary elections in 32 seconds, breaking their previous record of 42 seconds. Video: Reuters

 

Spaniards have voted in their fourth general election in as many years in a bid to break the political deadlock triggered by April’s inconclusive poll.

The ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE), led by the acting prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, is expected to win the most votes once again, but to fall well short of a majority and perhaps lose a handful of its 123 seats.

The first opinion poll published after voting closed at 8pm (7pm Irish time) showed no clear advantage for either the left-wing or the right-wing bloc, pointing to a stalemate that could yet again fail to produce a working government.

The far-right Vox was seen as the biggest gainer, with GAD3, for public broadcaster RTVE, forecasting it to more than double its representation from the 24 seats with which it debuted in parliament in April.

The Socialists were pegged at just over 27 per cent and poised to win between 114 and 119 seats, down from 123 they secured in the 350-seat house in April, according to GAD3.

The conservative People’s Party (PP) was seen second with a projected 85-90 seats.

The poll was based on the voting intentions of about 14,000 people collated in the days leading up to the election.

Spaniards take ballots for casting their vote in Barcelona. Photograph: Alex Caparros/Getty
Spaniards take ballots for casting their vote in Barcelona. Photograph: Alex Caparros/Getty

The repeat election comes amid renewed tensions between the central government and the separatist regional government of Catalonia.

In the middle of October, Spain’s supreme court jailed nine Catalan separatist leaders for sedition over their roles in the failed push for independence two years ago.

The verdict provoked violent unrest in Catalonia and prompted right-wing Spanish parties to call for a tough response from Mr Sanchez, whom they routinely accuse of being too soft on the separatists.

The re-eruption of the Catalan crisis has fuelled the rise of the far-right Vox party, which favours a radical recentralisation of Spain.

Mr Sanchez will be hoping that left-wing voters will once again rally in the face of a resurgent far right.

“On Sunday, we democrats have a foolproof weapon for curbing the far right, for breaking the deadlock, for building on rights and freedom, for securing the future and for ensuring that Spain moves forward without leaving anyone behind,” he wrote on Twitter. “Our vote.”

The conservative People’s Party, which experienced its worst ever results seven months ago, is expected to bounce back and come second with a significantly higher seat count.

Citizens, which has moved further to the right over the past year, appears to be headed towards a disastrous result, dropping from 57 seats to 20 or fewer amid increased competition for voters on the Spanish right.

The anti-austerity Unidas Podemos is expected to dip slightly while Mas Pais (More Country), the new party led by Inigo Errejon, one of Podemos’s founders, is forecast to win a few seats.

Turnout

Frustration and apathy are expected to hit turnout as many Spaniards decide to shun the ballot box. In April, turnout reached 75.5 per cent – well up from the 69.8 per cent of voters who went to the polls in June 2016.

Official turnout data at 6pm, showed a drop in voter numbers from the previous election – about 56.8 per cent compared with 60.7 per cent in April.

The election comes amid growing concern over the economy. Spain’s unemployment figures rose by almost 100,000 last month, and the European commission has revised the country’s growth forecast down from 2.3 per cent to 1.9 per cent for this year, and from 1.9 per cent to 1.5 per cent for 2020.

Any swift end to the impasse looks unlikely. The PSOE was unable to form a government with the backing of Unidas Podemos last time and Citizens, which firmly ruled out helping Sanchez back into power in April, looks willing but far too weak to play the kingmaker.

Pablo Iglesias, who leads Podemos, again offered his support to help the PSOE govern, saying their recent disagreements were now in the past.

“We’re reaching out our hand to the socialist party,” he said. “We’re leaving behind the reproaches so we can combine their experience and our courage.”

The PP leader, Pablo Casado, called for a “massive turnout to try to guarantee political stability”, while Citizens leader Albert Rivera urged everyone to vote – “especially the moderates”.

Santiago Abascal, who leads Vox, said he hoped the election results would “serve to strengthen the unity of Spain, the freedom of Spaniards and national harmony”.

Mr Errejon, meanwhile, said he hoped Sunday’s vote would head off the need for yet another election, but added: “We can’t rule it out, though.” – Guardian/Reuters.