Spain's election could see far-right return to power for first time since Franco

Opinion polls indicate the right has the edge going into the election

Supporters at the Vox party election rally in Madrid. Bloomberg
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Voters in Spain will go to the polls on Sunday in an election which could put the far-right back in office for the first time since dictator Francisco Franco in the 1970s.

Opinion polls indicate the right has the edge going into the election, raising the possibility that a neo-fascist party will be part of Spain's next government.

Polls suggest Alberto Nunez Feijoo and his right-wing opposition Popular Party will win, but without an absolute majority, which is likely to force him to seek support from the far-right Vox to govern.

The shift would represent an upheaval after five years under a left-wing government.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called the early election a day after his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and its small far-left coalition partner, Unidas Podemos (United We Can), took a hammering in local and regional elections May 28.

Before that, Mr Sánchez had insisted he would ride out his four-year term, indicating that an election would be held in December.

But after the May defeat, he said it was only fair for Spaniards to decide the country’s political future without delay.

The Popular Party emerged from the local and regional elections as the most-voted party by far, giving it the right to take office in all but a handful of towns and one or two regions.

Since then, the Popular Party and Vox have agreed to govern together in about 140 cities and towns as well as to add two more regions to the one where they co-governed.

The Socialists and other leftist parties lost political clout across the country, but after weathering the initial shock, they have regrouped and recovered some ground, leaving the vote outcome on Sunday unknown.

A Popular Party-Vox government would mean another EU member has moved firmly to the right, a trend seen recently in Sweden, Finland and Italy. Countries such as Germany and France are concerned by what such a shift would portend for EU immigration and climate policies.

Spain’s two main leftist parties are pro-EU participation. On the right, the PP is also in favour of the EU, but Vox is not.

The election comes as Spain holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Mr Sánchez had hoped to use the six-month term to showcase the advances his government had made. An election defeat for Mr Sánchez could allow the Popular Party to take over the reins of the EU presidency.

Issues at stake

The campaign has been dominated by mudslinging from all sides, with both the left and right accusing each other of lying about their policies and records.

The Popular Party has managed to question Mr Sánchez’s honour by highlighting the many U-turns he has made and his alliances with small regional secessionist parties, something that alienates some left-wing voters.

The left has sought to convince voters that there is little difference between the two right-wing parties and that a victory for them would set Spain back decades in terms of social progress.

Nearly every poll has put the Popular Party firmly ahead of the Socialists and Vox ahead of Sumar for third place. But 30 per cent of the electorate is said to be undecided.

With the election taking place at the height of summer, millions of citizens are likely to be on holiday away from their regular polling places. But postal voting requests have soared, and officials are estimating a 70 per cent election turnout.

The surprise factor

A surprise factor that could upset poll predictions is Sumar: the brand broad-based movement of 15 small left-wing parties, including Podemos and prominent social figures.

Sumar is headed by popular Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, who is also the second deputy vice president and the only woman among the leaders of the four main parties.

This is the first time small left parties have come together on a joint ticket in Spain. Their earlier fragmentation was blamed for many of the town and regional losses in the May election, and they hope that joined together they can make a bigger showing.

Sumar's big goal is to beat out Vox for the potential king-making third place finish. That would allow Sumar to give valuable support for another leftist coalition government. Surveys consistently suggested during the campaign that an absolute majority for Popular Party and Vox is very possible.

Updated: July 22, 2023, 10:16 AM