Spain yesterday voted in its fourth general election in as many years amid heightened tensions over Catalonia’s separatist push, an issue that has fueled a surge in support for upstart far-right party Vox.
The repeat polls were called after Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez failed to secure support from other parties following an inconclusive election in April, which saw his Socialist Party win the most votes, but no working majority in parliament.
However, opinion polls suggested the new election would fail to break the deadlock. Neither the left nor the right looked likely to win a ruling majority in Spain’s 350-seat parliament.
The Socialists looked set to finish top again, but with slightly fewer seats than the 123 they picked up in April. The main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) might also strengthen its parliamentary presence.
However, the most striking development could be the rise of the far-right Vox party, which might even jump to third-largest in parliament, according to the latest polling.
“More ungovernability or stability: Spaniards choose,” wrote conservative newspaper ABC on its front page yesterday.
The election came as Spain finds itself increasingly polarized by the Catalan crisis, which has deepened in the past few weeks.
Less than a month ago, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy jail terms over their role in a failed 2017 independence bid, sparking days of angry street protests in Barcelona and other Catalan cities that sometimes turned violent.
More than 600 people were injured in the protests, which saw demonstrators torching barricades and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police.
Sanchez said Madrid had sent a “significant” number of security forces to the northeastern region to ensure the unrest did not disrupt voting in Catalonia.
During a TV election debate, PP leader Pablo Casado called for a “real government that will put order in Catalonia.”
However, the toughest line against the separatists has come from Vox leader Santiago Abascal.
“Drastic solutions are needed,” he said during his final campaign rally on Friday night in Madrid.
He then repeated his pledge to end the Catalan crisis by suspending Catalonia’s regional autonomy, banning separatist parties and arresting Catalan President Quim Torra, who has vowed to continue the secession drive.
The crowd responded by chanting “Torra to the dungeon.”
At the rally, Ana Escobedo said she has voted for the PP in the past, but was drawn to Vox because of its hard line on Catalonia as well as illegal immigration.
“I think we heed to take a heavy hand,” she said.
Vox won 24 seats in parliament in the election in April, in the first significant showing by a far-right faction since Spain’s return to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
This time Vox could double that number, polls suggested.
In the past few days, Sanchez has repeatedly raised the alarm about Vox’s “aggressive ultra-rightwing” policies, warning the party would drag the country back to the dark days of Franco’s dictatorship.
Spain has been caught in political paralysis since the election of December 2015, when far-left Podemos and business-friendly Ciudadanos entered parliament.
That put an end to decades of dominance of the two main parties, the PP and the Socialists.
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