Spaniards flock to polls after tense campaign

MADRID • A divided Spanish electorate flocked to the polls yesterday, responding to a plea from party leaders for a high turnout in what promises to be the country's most open-ended and potentially pivotal election in decades.

After a tense campaign dominated by a debate over national identity and other emotive issues such as gender equality, a fragmented Parliament beckons - featuring the first bloc of far-right lawmakers since Spain's return to democracy in the 1970s.

The Socialists of outgoing Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez are expected to finish first.

But opinion polls show no single party close to winning a majority, making it likely that any coalition deal will take weeks or months to broker and feeding in turn into a broader mood of political uncertainty across Europe. A repeat election is a distinct possibility.

"Above all else today, Spaniards should vote in large numbers to send a... clear message of what we (as a nation) want over the next four years," Mr Sanchez told reporters after voting at a polling station near Madrid.

Voting ended at 8pm (2am Singapore time) in mainland Spain for what was the country's third national election in four years. Each has further eroded the decades-long dominance of the two biggest parties, the Socialists and the conservative People's Party.

The leaders of all five main parties, ranging from far-left Podemos through to far-right Vox, expressed similar hopes to Mr Sanchez's for a high turnout as they all cast their ballots early.

After a tense campaign dominated by a debate over national identity and other emotive issues such as gender equality, a fragmented Parliament beckons - featuring the first bloc of far-right lawmakers since Spain's return to democracy in the 1970s.

 
 
 

Early data suggested voters were responding, with more than 41 per cent having cast their ballots by 2pm, an early participation second only to that seen in the 1993 election.

Opinion polls have failed to give a clear picture of how many seats the far-right newcomer will win, but it could easily get dozens, boosted by voter discontent with the established parties and with non-mainstream policies that include a law on gender-based violence which it says discriminates against men.

It has also focused on widespread anger at Catalonia's independence drive, the pivotal issue during campaigning and one that has driven a wedge between the three rightist and two leftist parties that deepened as the vote got nearer.

With neither of those two camps expected to win a clear parliamentary majority, pro-independence lawmakers from the wealthy northeastern region may well find themselves cast in the role of kingmakers.

The high number of undecided voters - in some surveys as many as four in 10 - has further complicated the task of predicting the outcome with any certainty.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2019, with the headline 'Spaniards flock to polls after tense campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe