- The latest developments
- Turnout was up 2.5% from the last election at 2 p.m
- People’s Party leader Vigo says he hopes Spain will usher in a new era
- The leader of the far-right Vox party, Abascal, says Mission Spain is changing course
- The leader of the left-wing Sumar group, Diaz, warns that rights are at stake
MADRID (Reuters) – Spaniards voted in a potential general election on Sunday that could see Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s ruling Socialists lose power and a far-right party form part of the new government for the first time in 50 years.
Sanchez has called for early elections after the left suffered a rout in local elections in May, but his gamble on his opponents’ fault could backfire.
Opinion polls show the election will likely win Alberto Nunez Figo’s centre-right People’s Party, but to form a government it will need to partner with Santiago Abascal’s far-right Vox party. It will be the first time that a far-right party has entered government since the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in the 1970s.
Voting will close at 8pm (1800GMT) (9pm in the Canary Islands) when voter polls conducted via telephone calls over the past week are released. All ballot papers are expected to be counted by midnight, confirming the party with the most votes.
Both left- and right-wing blocs have the potential to form coalitions, which would need at least 176 seats in the 350-seat lower house. A new parliament must be formed by August 17, but negotiations between parties to form a government could drag on for months.
An analysis of polling data conducted by Spanish newspaper El Pais on July 19 when polling ended predicted a 55% chance of a PP/Vox coalition, a 15% chance of Sanchez remaining in power with a motley left-wing coalition and a 23% chance of a hung parliament and re-election.
TVE footage showed that when Sanchez went to vote in Madrid, he was greeted by a small group of people chanting “liar” and a similar group chanting “Prime Minister”. He told reporters that he had “good feelings” about the outcome of the election.
The minority prime minister’s government is currently in coalition with the far-left party Unidas Podemos, which is running in Sunday’s elections under the Sumar programme.
Figo expressed hope that Spain would begin a “new era”.
“The important thing today is whether Spain changes course,” said VOX leader Abascal and thanked voters for “disrupting their comfort” to cast ballots, while Sumar leader Yolanda Diaz said “rights are at stake” and urged people to vote in “probably the most important election” of her generation.
The elections took place in the summer holidays amid sweltering heat in most parts of the country.
Voter turnout was around 40.5% at 2 p.m. (1200 GMT), according to the Home Office, up from 37.9% recorded at the same time during the last election in November 2019.
Postal workers arrived at polling stations carrying postal ballot boxes, after the Postal Service reported Saturday that those hit an all-time record of 2.47 million as people cast their ballots from the beach or mountains.
“The status quo scenario and a hung parliament remains a real possibility, combined odds are 50% likely,” Barclays wrote in a recent note to clients, citing the slim margin in favor of PP and general uncertainty regarding polling and voter turnout.
If the bloc cannot agree on forming a government, new elections must be held – which has happened twice in the past ten years.
This uncertainty could affect Madrid’s effectiveness as the current host of the six-month rotating EU Council presidency, as well as its spending of EU money to recover from the coronavirus.
Swing to the right?
Sanchez’s government has passed progressive laws on euthanasia, transgender rights, abortion, and animal rights — rights that anti-feminist group Vox said it would seek to repeal if they were part of the next government.
With major parties relying on minor parties for support, the political center has suffered.
In Barcelona, engineer Luis Alonso, 43, said, “The world is heading for more division between right and left… Here it is no different.”
In Madrid, Yolanda Fernandez, 67, recalled the Franco era, saying: “I voted for the Socialists because I lived through a period that I don’t want to see repeated.” She said that Fox entering the government would mean “a major setback for social rights”.
Sanchez, in office since 2018, has seen his tenure as prime minister marked by crisis management – from the COVID pandemic and its economic impacts to the politically devastating consequences of Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid.
Experts say the leader of the People’s Party Vigo, who never lost an election in his native Galicia, has sold himself as a safe guy, which may appeal to some voters.
“I voted for the right, but I wouldn’t say if you voted for the People’s Party or VOX. I think the country needs to change… Pedro Sánchez is a bad politician,” said Juan Carlos Rodríguez, a 63-year-old civil servant who cast his ballot in Madrid.
The People’s Party government could eventually soften the agenda of the previous Green government and take a more conservative stance on social issues.
PP promised to simplify the tax system, cut taxes for low-income people, abolish the recently created wealth tax, boost industry, and cut value-added tax on meat and fish.
(Cover) By Horace García, Guillermo Martinez, Andre Khalil, Belen Carreño, Jesus Aguado, and Catrina Dimon.
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Infuriatingly humble alcohol fanatic. Unapologetic beer practitioner. Analyst.”