MADRID – Spain’s political parties are poised on Thursday to launch their campaigns for a snap general election that promises to expose an increasingly polarized political landscape heavily influenced by the ongoing fallout of an illegal referendum in Catalonia and a re-emergent far-right.
Official campaigns for the April 28 general election are set to kick off at midnight.
Recent surveys from the Spanish Center for Sociological Research (CIS) suggest that no party will secure an outright majority in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies, the Madrid-based lower chamber of Spanish lawmaking.
According to the latest survey by CIS, center-left Socialist Party (PSOE) was up for between 123-138 seats; right-wing Popular Party 67-78, center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) 42-21; left-wing Unidas Podemos (United We Can) 33-41; far-right Vox 33-37 then the Catalan separatist Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) 17-18.
The emergent parties, which in recent years have clipped the wings of the dominant PSOE and PP and diversified the chamber, will likely play a key role in the formation of a future government, whether as coalition partners or as confidence and supply.
SO, WHO IS WHO IN THE RACE TO THE MONCLOA?
Leading the polls is the incumbent prime minister, Pedro Sanchez.
The 47-year-old PSOE leader will run on a ticket of inclusion and modernism.
On his tail is Pablo Casado, 37, whose rise to the fore of the PP has given a youthful image to an otherwise traditional right-wing party.
Then there is Albert Rivera, Ciudadanos frontman, who has already made overtures to Casado with his eyes on a possible coalition should his party take the third spot in parliament, as polls suggest.
Both the PP and Ciudadanos are united by squarely anti-Catalan separatist values and have attacked PSOE for relying on votes from Catalan independence parties in the chamber to pass legislature.
Following them in the polls was Spain’s main left-wing party Unidos Podemos, which has altered its name to Unidas Podemos ahead of the vote to be more female inclusive.
Led by Pablo Iglesias, 40, the grassroots progressive party takes aim at corruption and austerity politics.
On the other end of the scale is Santiago Abascal, 42, whose emergent far-right party Vox grabbed headlines in December last year when it entered the regional chamber in Andalusia, a traditional PSOE stronghold.
The controversial party peddles anti-immigration, anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion and anti-feminist rhetoric and gained support amid nationalist fervor in the aftermath of the Catalan vote on Oct. 1, 2017.
Other influential parties include regional forces from Catalan separatists and Basque nationalists.
The overarching topic of conversation in Spanish politics undoubtedly revolves around Catalonia.
The PP, Ciudadanos and Vox have all rounded on the current PM for what they perceive as his overly soft approach toward Catalan separatist parties.
Sanchez had relied on two pro-Catalan independence parties, the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCat) and the ERC, to pass national laws.
Casado accused Sanchez of “high treason” when in February the government proposed that a mediator role be created to dialogue with the separatists over the national budget – the government never ultimately began a dialogue with the independence lobby.
The election campaigns coincide with the legal proceedings in Spain’s Supreme Court, where 12 separatist leaders are on trial for their involvement in the illegal referendum and the subsequent – and ultimately abortive – unilateral declaration of independence.
On Thursday, Casado accused Sanchez of planning to pardon the separatists in favor of votes.
PSOE has painted itself as the only way to ensure against a tripartite coalition of the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox, which the center-left force said would erode citizens rights.
WHY THE SNAP ELECTIONS?
Sanchez decided to call snap elections back on Feb. 15 when right-wing parties and Catalan separatists became unlikely bedfellows in Congress and shot down PSOE’s liberal budget.
The budget package was backed by Unidos Podemos and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV).
Sanchez came to power in June by triggering a successful no-confidence vote against his predecessor Mariano Rajoy’s minority conservative Popular Party government.