Thursday 21 November 2019

Spain goes to the polls with far right tipped to make gains

Spanish acting Prime Minister and Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez reacts during a campaign closing rally ahead of general election, in Barcelona, Spain November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
Spanish acting Prime Minister and Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez reacts during a campaign closing rally ahead of general election, in Barcelona, Spain November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
Spain's acting Prime Minister and Socialist Party (PSOE) leader and candidate Pedro Sanchez talks to media as he attends voting during Spain's general election in Pozuelo de Alarcon, outside Madrid, Spain, November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Spanish acting Prime Minister and Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez takes a selfie with a supporter during a campaign closing rally ahead of general election, in Barcelona, Spain November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Ciaran Giles

People in Spain have begun voting in the country's fourth election in as many years.

Catalonia's secession drive and the predicted rise of a far-right party have dominated the campaign.

The election was called by incumbent Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

He won the most votes in the last ballot in April but failed to gain enough parliamentary support to form a government.

Mr Sanchez is tipped to win again but Spain may face another stalemate situation and months more without a stable government.

The four main parties contending the election concentrated their campaigns chiefly on ways to deal with Catalonia*s independence push and the feared surge of the far-right party Vox.

Spain's acting Prime Minister and Socialist Party (PSOE) leader and candidate Pedro Sanchez talks to media as he attends voting during Spain's general election in Pozuelo de Alarcon, outside Madrid, Spain, November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Spain's acting Prime Minister and Socialist Party (PSOE) leader and candidate Pedro Sanchez talks to media as he attends voting during Spain's general election in Pozuelo de Alarcon, outside Madrid, Spain, November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Abstentions loom, with polls suggesting up to 35% of the electorate could stay away from the polling booths, up from 28% in April.

Spain, a country which returned to democracy after a near four-decade right-wing dictatorship under the late General Francisco Franco, used to take pride in claiming no far-right group had seats in the national parliament, unlike the rest of Europe.

But that changed in the last election when Vox erupted onto the political scene by winning 24 seats on promises of taking a hard line on Catalonia and immigration.

The Socialists' April victory was nonetheless seen by many as something of a respite for Europe where right-wing parties had gained much ground in countries such as France, Hungary, Italy and Poland.

Spanish acting Prime Minister and Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez takes a selfie with a supporter during a campaign closing rally ahead of general election, in Barcelona, Spain November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante
Spanish acting Prime Minister and Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez takes a selfie with a supporter during a campaign closing rally ahead of general election, in Barcelona, Spain November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

But many polls predict Vox, headed by Santiago Abascal, may do even better this time and capitalise on the pro-Spain nationalist sentiment stirred by the Catalan conflict and in response to the caretaker Socialist government's exhumation of Franco's remains last month from his mausoleum so that he could no longer be exalted by supporters in a public place.

Vox has already joined forces with the other two right-of-centre parties to take over many city and regional governments and no one doubts the three would readily band together to oust Mr Sanchez.

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