Spain’s general election campaign has kicked off ahead of polling day on Sunday, April 28 – and although only those with Spanish nationality are eligible to vote, the nation’s five million foreign residents, including Brits, will be keeping a close eye on who might end up governing their country.
As is the case with every nation on earth, only citizens are allowed to vote – a global policy which seems unfair in this day and age of mass movement and migration where a resident may be paying taxes in a country for decades without ever being able to choose who spends them and how – although expats will be able to have some say on May 26 when they vote in their local council elections.
Brits will still be able to do so this year since, although only European Union citizens are permitted to vote for their local governments and it was assumed UK nationals would be third-country residents by then, Spanish president Pedro Sánchez had already taken steps to allow Britons to keep their vote, even before the Brexit extension to October 31 – or to June 1, if the UK decides not to field candidates for the European Parliamentary elections – was agreed by the remaining EU-27.
The presence in recent years on Spain’s political scene of independent parties means the national elections ceased to be merely a race between the ‘Big Two’, the right-wing PP and the left-wing PSOE or socialists, after the country went to the polls in 2011; a factor which has meant that no single party has emerged with an outright majority since.
After the PP’s landslide in November 2011, left independents Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos appeared in the political arena nationally in 2014, leading to a hung Parliament in November 2015 and forcing a second election in June 2016.
In both cases, the PP won the most seats, but were in a minority, meaning they had to secure the support of other parties to be able to govern.
Corruption charges against the party as an entity and against several of its key members led to the PP’s direct rival, the PSOE, launching a no-confidence vote and winning, putting its leader, Pedro Sánchez, in the hotseat in June 2018.
Whilst PP supporters campaigned for an early election on the grounds that Sánchez’s appointment was ‘unelected’ and ‘undemocratic’, the largely left-leaning immigrant population pointed out that any president was, for them, ‘unelected’ and any general election ‘undemocratic’, and championed the move.
But Sánchez was unable to secure support for his 2019 budget, which the party described as ‘the most socially-friendly in history’, forcing him to call a general election at the end of April this year.
And during his hitherto short reign, the political face has been changing: PP leader and ex-president Mariano Rajoy has quit, and his successor, Pablo Casado, is much more right-wing; the far-right party Vox finally gained a presence in politics by winning 12 seats out of 110 at Andalucía’s regional elections in December 2018, and Ciudadanos, a previously self-styled centrist outfit, has become much more right-leaning and is keen to forge an alliance with the PP, having previously sought to do so with the PSOE.
Podemos, meanwhile, appears to have dropped out of favour, according to the polls, and the PSOE’s having to seek additional support from nationalist regional parties in the Basque Country and Catalunya led to accusations of its helping the latter’s separatist cause, which has seen at least 12 key regional politicians spending the last 18 months in prison after calling a disputed referendum on independence.
This means the PSOE has lost support from voters who are against Catalunya’s being allowed a referendum – even though, ironically, Sánchez has never been in favour of this in any case – and, as he has not directly pandered to the pro-secession parties, they, too, are gradually withdrawing their backing.
The campaign looks set to be one of the most aggressive in recent history, and all parties, almost without exception, seem to be basing their manifestos on attacking their rivals rather than showing the public what they intend to do if they win.
PP and Ciudadanos slogans augur doom and gloom, and warn of the ‘dangers’ of voting for the PSOE, which they call a ‘secessionist’ party ‘threatening the unity of Spain’, whilst Podemos, in coalition with United Left and running as Unidos Podemos, warns that a vote for the socialists could mean a pact between Sánchez and Ciudadanos, with the latter’s leader as minister of work.
But overall, Podemos is sticking to its long-held stance of urging the public to go grass-roots rather than letting their lives be organised by the ‘Establishment’, or the ‘Caste’, as its leader Pablo Iglesias calls the PP and PSOE.
Iglesias’ wife, Irene Montero, however, reminds voters that Spain’s greatest achievement and source of pride is not its flag, but its State health system, ‘one of the best in the world’ – and she and Pablo should know, given that it was a public hospital which cared for their twin boys when they were born three months’ prematurely in June and who is now fighting fit, with their mum a few months away from giving them a new baby sister.
Vox’s leader Santiago Abascal declares that his party has ‘already won’, irrespective of votes, since ‘you cannot put the genie back into the bottle’.
The far-right outfit, the first to gain a foothold in politics in Spain since the death of dictator General Franco in 1975, wants to scrap laws protecting the equality of women, homosexual and bisexual people and transgender men and women, considers gender violence to be ‘domestic violence’, is against abortion, wants to curtail immigrants’ rights and restrict immigration, to create national holidays in celebration of those who colonised the Americas, and other ultra-conservative measures that mean, according to a recent survey, 54% of Spaniards would never vote for them.
Pablo Casado of the PP wants to restrict abortion to ‘promote childbirth’ in light of Spain’s plummeting birth rate – instead of providing State financial assistance and flexible working hours, given that the main reason 70% of women aged 35 are childless and one in five first-time mums are aged over 40 is due to money and job issues – and to cut the minimum wage from €900 a month over 14 months to €850.
Ciudadanos wants to introduce a compulsory school subject titled ‘Spanish Constitution’, believing this will be enough to stop adults of the future ‘disobeying’ the clause in it which bans any action threatening the ‘unity of Spain’, such as a regional referendum on independence.
Sánchez has warned against a possible coalition between ‘The Three Terrors’, or the right-wing PP, Vox and Ciudadanos, and has announced measures such as State payments of up to €588 per child for families in extreme poverty and tax breaks of €1,200 a year for all parents.
Polls to date show that the PSOE would win the elections, but not enough seats for an outright majority, although a pact with Podemos would probably be sufficient to put Sánchez back in power.
Yet, if either party wins marginally fewer seats than the polls predict, the pro-secession parties in Catalunya would once again be needed, and if the PP, Vox and Ciudadanos banded together, they may create a big enough right-wing front to return Spain to a conservative government – albeit a much more conservative one than ever before in the history of the country’s democracy.
Pablo Iglesias has urged the public to vote, irrespective of whom they vote for, and expats are urging their Spanish friends to let them have their ballots if they do not wish to cast them, given that at each election, up to a third of the electorate decided not to bother and, if every non-vote went to a single party, this group would end up with a clear majority.