Spain will hold its third general elections in four years on Sunday amid an atmosphere of indecision and rise of the far right.
Polls suggest that around 40% of the electorate was undecided just a week before the national vote.
Since 2015, when Spain’s predominantly two-party political system came to an end, the country has had major difficulties forming a government.
In the 2015 elections, two new parties broke onto Spain’s political landscape – the far left Podemos party and center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) party. Prior to that, Spanish politics had been dominated by the Popular Party and the Socialist Party. However, issues including corruption, the economic crisis and the growing Catalan separatist movement gave rise to the new political parties.
Their entry into Spanish politics resulted in a Parliament so fragmented that politicians were unable to elect a government. As a result of the political deadlock, general elections were held in 2016.
In 2016, the results of the national election were similarly inconclusive. However, after nearly 10 months with only a caretaker government, Spain’s parliament managed to elect the Popular Party, led by Mariano Rajoy, as the governing party.
Yet, with support from less than half of the Spanish Parliament, the government was toppled in 2018 by a motion of no confidence submitted by the Socialist Party. That is when Pedro Sanchez, the current frontrunner for Sunday’s elections, became Spain’s prime minister.
While Sanchez was able to pass some legislation including a 22% hike in minimum wage, he was unable to pass the 2019 budget and called another round of national elections in the hopes of improving Spain’s governability.
Although the latest polls show the largest voting bloc is undecided, they suggest that the Socialist Party is in the lead, followed by the conservative Popular Party, Citizens, Podemos and Vox.
- Far-right party makes inroads
Vox is the new addition to Spain’s already fragmented political scene. It is the first far-right party to gain significant political traction since the death of the country’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and is expected to win its first seats in the national parliament on Sunday.
Last December, Vox exceeded expectations and won 12 seats in Andalusia’s regional elections. The latest polls suggest that the party has gone from having virtually no support on the national level to around 11% of popular support. .
Vox’s campaign has been marked by a hard-line position on Catalan separatism, which reached a boiling point in 2017 when a referendum was held on the question of independence. Spanish police cracked down on the vote but the region’s separatist politicians subsequently declared independence.
As a result, the Spanish central government assumed political control of Catalonia and laid charges against the separatist politicians.
Today, several Catalan politicians are in preventative prison while their trials for charges including treason are ongoing, or in self-imposed exile in other European nations.
But for Vox, the Spanish government’s reaction to Catalan separatism was not firm enough.
“We will not permit Spain to commit suicide,” said Vox’s leader Santiago Abascal during its massive final rally in Madrid on Friday night.
Besides Spanish unity, Vox has campaigned on a populist platform that rejects some forms of immigration and feminism. Abascal has made the media and progressive left his enemies and has drawn heavily on the symbolism of the Spanish Reconquista, which was when Christians regained control of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslims in the fifteenth century.
Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, has become a consultant for Vox, and the party seems to be taking many of the same pages from the U.S. president’s playbook. Vox’s rallies are explosive, attracting thousands of people, and the party is playing on the fear, frustration and resentment of patriotic Spaniards who feel neglected by traditional party politics.
“This is the first party that is telling it as it is, not speaking in half-truths and fighting for Spain,” Santiago, 25, told Anadolu Agency after the Vox rally on Friday.
While Vox is unlikely to become the dominant political force after Sunday’s polls, it could be placed in a kingmaker position and has caused increasing polarization between Spain’s left and right.
While the results of Spain’s elections on Sunday are impossible to predict, the most likely possibilities are a left-wing coalition, which may have to resort to the controversial support of regional nationalist parties or a right-wing coalition backed by Vox.
Another likely outcome is that no obvious coalitions exist and Spain’s Parliament again goes months without a functioning government. That scenario could cause voters to return to the polls in national elections long before the government’s four-year term is up.
By Alyssa McMurtry