MADRID • Spain will go to the polls on Dec 20, in a general election in which Catalan demands for independence will likely loom large.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who announced the poll date on Thursday during an interview with Antena 3 television, enjoys an absolute majority in Parliament with his conservative Popular Party (PP), but opinion polls suggest support for the opposition Socialist Party is running close.
Far-left party Podemos is running in third place.
Separatist parties won Catalonia's regional election last weekend, in a vote they had billed as a de facto referendum on breaking away from Spain.
Mr Rajoy has repeatedly refused separatists' demands for an official referendum on the matter and, this week, ruled out talks on a split with the wealthy north-western region.
The prime minister won a resounding victory in 2011 as voters turned against the ruling Socialists for their handling of the financial crisis that rocked the country in 2008. But surveys suggest that if the Socialists and Podemos teamed up in a coalition, they could boot the PP from power.
Opposition forces said Dec 20 is a bad date for a general election as it falls on the last Sunday before Christmas when many people will be too busy to bother voting.
Plus, many Spaniards will have taken the week off and travelled to places where they are not registered to vote. The paperwork to do that has to be done several days beforehand and that will also lead to many people not voting.
Rejecting a proposal to hold the elections earlier in December, Mr Rajoy said: "We will now have a margin in which to install the Parliament after the holidays."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA