- The latest developments
- The prime minister says he has “good feelings” about the election
- Postal workers arrive at polling stations carrying mail-in ballot boxes to sort
- The government says 100% of polling stations are operating normally
MADRID (Reuters) – Spaniards began voting on Sunday in a potentially close general election that could see Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s ruling Socialists lose power and a far-right party formed part of a 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 started at 9am (0700GMT) and will close at 8pm (1800GMT) (9pm in the Canary Islands) when voter polls conducted via phone calls over the past week are released.
Experts say the final result is expected to be decided by less than a million votes and fewer than 10 seats in the 350-seat parliament.
Television footage showed a small group shouting “liar” and a similar group shouting “Prime Minister” at Sanchez as he headed to a polling station to vote. He told reporters that he had “good feelings” about the outcome of the election.
Many Spaniards are outraged that they are called to vote in the height of the hot summer when they are on vacation.
Postal workers arrived at polling stations carrying mail-in ballot boxes on Sunday. The Postal Service reported Saturday that postal votes hit an all-time record of 2.47 million, with many people choosing to cast their ballots from the beach or the mountains.
The government said 100 percent of polling stations were operating normally 90 minutes after polling stations opened.
“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.
The outcome could hinge on whether Figo or Sanchez get enough support from the smaller parties to form a coalition government.
The Prime Minister’s Socialist Minority Government (PSOE) is in coalition with the far-left Unidas Podemos who is running in Sunday’s elections under the Sumar platform.
Swing to the right?
Sanchez’s government has passed progressive laws on euthanasia, transgender rights, abortion, and animal rights, telling voters those rights could be stripped if the anti-feminist Vox party focused on family values is 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.”
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 has never lost an election in his native Galicia, has exploited his reputation for dullness, selling himself as a safe husband, which may appeal to some voters.
The People’s Party government could eventually soften the agenda of the previous Green government and take a more conservative stance on social issues.
On the economic front, PP promised to simplify the tax system, cut taxes for low-income earners, abolish the recently created wealth tax, boost industry, and cut value-added tax on meat and fish.
The formation of a new government depends on complex negotiations that may take weeks or months and may end in new elections.
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.
(Cover) By Horace García, Guillermo Martinez and Catarina Dimon Writing by Jessica Jones Editing by Nick McPhee and Frances Kerry
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