On Sunday Spain holds the most important elections since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco. The outcome of the general election is extremely uncertain, even though the winner is already known. No one doubts that the current president, Pedro Sánchez, will rise to victory with relative ease – not a single survey has indicated the contrary. But there is an even more pressing issue: whether he will be able to govern.
The Spanish electoral system can produce paradoxes, such as having the winner of the elections ending up as the leader of the opposition. The elections are not presidential; 350 members of parliament are elected, and a majority of 176 seats is necessary —both by a single party or with the support of other parties. That means an alliance of losers can oust the most victorious candidate.
On April 28th the Socialist party will win in Spain. Pedro Sánchez will step out that night with a smile on his face, and announce that he is the clear winner. However, the key issues will start the next day. Just as in the Danish series Borgen, a period of post-electoral alliances will come to be. These alliances can forge either a left or right majority. This is the key issue for 2019: Spain chooses between left or right, and the far right will almost certainly get good results.
This is what you need to know:
When are the elections held?
Sunday, April 28th. Polling stations will open at 9am and close at 8pm. The first official results will be known from 9pm. One hour later —between 10pm and 10:30pm — the winner will be known. Spain is one of the countries with the fastest vote counting in the world.
Who are the main candidates?
Pedro Sánchez, leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Pablo Casado, president of the conservative Partido Popular (PP). Both parties have dominated Spanish politics during the past four decades. At the axis of the left spectrum is Podemos led by Pablo Iglesias (that politician with a pony tail), and at the right is Ciudadanos led by Albert Rivera, a Macron wannabe who usually does not do well in elections. There is a newcomer that emerged with unexpected force on the right axis: Vox, the extreme right party led by Santiago Abascal.
But... will it be more of the same or is there something new to be expected?
These elections will be unparalleled; for the first time in the history of Spanish democracy, the political parties are heading for a coalition government, something which is usual in the rest of Europe but a novelty in Spain. For 40 years there were only presidents and ministers from two parties: PSOE and PP.
But the biggest and most alarming novelty, which is taking over most of the media, talk shows and conversations on the streets, is the arrival of the extreme right in parliament. They will not just put one foot in; they will put both feet and almost their whole body in. Vox, the party led by Santiago Abascal, takes its references from Marine Le Pen, Trump, Salvini – it questions immigration with severity, defends the unity of Spain above all and against all, supports “taking” Catalonia in order to curtail its separatist aspirations. Many of its supporters are nostalgic for Franco’s regime, it criticises the feminist movement, advocates the use of weapons, loves hunting, bullfighting and paella. The Spanish flag —which in Spain is associated with the right wing—is the backdrop for all its rallies, which always end with the shout “Viva España!” (Long live Spain!), the same words that the dictator Francisco Franco used constantly. The latest polls suggest that they will get over 30 members of parliament.
Why has the right hatched in Spain?
Because many of the people who traditionally voted for the conservative PP were very critical over the past years with PP’s attitude towards the independence of Catalonia. They questioned Mariano Rajoy (the former president) for being too tempered in the face of separatist threats and demanded a firmer hand. This is precisely what Vox is offering them. In the face of the smallest risk of the country splitting up Vox offers unity, unity and more unity. The truth is that the extreme right voters were always there, but they were inside PP.
What post-electoral alliances are being considered?
There are only two blocks: left and right. On the left the pact will certainly be between PSOE and Podemos. In the event that together they do not reach the mandatory 176 seats needed to govern they might forge alliances with Catalonian and Basque separatists. It is precisely this possibility of an alliance that reaps most criticism from the right-wing parties, claiming that if Pedro Sánchez wins Spain will break down as a country.
On the right, the alliance is much clearer: PP, Ciudadanos —their first decision during the campaign was to say they would never pact with PSOE— and Vox. The fact that two democratic parties have shown no qualms when it comes to taking advantage of extreme right votes in order to take control, is the main weapon of the left. This is something unprecedented in European politics; it would be like Macron making a pact with Le Pen to keep the Socialists from governing.
What would happen if Pedro Sánchez wins again?
According to rightwing party supporters, Spain as a country would be doomed to chaos and self destruction, unemployment would be on the rise and it would open up a path to Communism. According to leftwing voters this would mean fostering equality policies, bolstering the welfare state and having a government that cares more about the middle class. But, regardless of whether you are leftwing or rightwing, one thing is for certain: if Sánchez wins Spain would become the largest European country with a leftist government.
Is there anything else we should know?
Yes: there is one key element that is driving political analysts crazy: the number of undecided voters just a few days before the elections is unusually high. 41% of voters —36.8 million Spaniards— are still unsure about which ballot box they will put their cross into on Sunday. Many are already arguing that perhaps it is not so much uncertainty but a hidden vote for Vox: they will be voting for the extreme right but are not willing to acknowledge it.