On Sunday, Spanish citizens began voting in local and regional elections, which will serve as a barometer for a general election that will take place at the end of the year. Recent polls predict that Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will lose this election, which will mark the return of the right.
The stakes are high for Sanchez, whose Socialist party is currently governing the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy in alliance with Podemos, which is an extreme left-wing organization.
In addition to voting leaders and legislatures in 12 of Spain’s 17 regions, voters are choosing mayors in 8,131 towns around the country. Ten of Spain’s 17 regions are presently governed by the Socialist Party.
The polls opened at 9:00 am (0700 GMT) with around 35.5 million persons eligible to vote in the municipal elections and 18.3 million eligible to vote in the regional elections. Voting began at 9:00 am (0700 GMT). At eight o’clock, the ballot boxes will be closed.
Because there were no exit polls taken, the preliminary results won’t be available until two hours later.
This week, an analyst with the Eurasia Group named Federico Santi predicted that if the left “exceeds expectations and manages to retain control of most regional governments in play,” this would signal that the national elections will be very closely contested, and augur well for the left’s chances of remaining in power.
But if polls, which predict a tilt to the right, turn out to be accurate, a victory on the regional level will give opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo, head of the right-wing Popular Party (PP), the “momentum” he needs to win the election at the end of the year, according to Santi.
Sanchez, who has been in office since 2018, is in a number of precarious positions following Sunday’s vote.
He is up against voter apathy with his left-wing government at a time of increasing inflation — even though the rate in Spain is lower than in other EU nations — and the consequent decrease in purchasing power that comes with it.
In addition to this, he has had a difficult time containing the fallout from the multiple crises that have rattled the left-wing coalition he leads.
Feijoo has exerted significant effort in an effort to transform the upcoming elections into a referendum on Sanchez at the national level.
He has accused the prime minister of appeasing not only the far left, but also the Basque and Catalan separatist groups, on which his minority government has relied for parliamentary support. He has criticised this behavior on the prime minister’s side.
“I have come to ask for votes from the Spain that wants to overthrow ‘Sanchismo’ this coming Sunday,” Feijoo said as he closed his campaign on Friday night, using a pejorative nickname for Sanchez’s policies. “Sanchismo” refers to the policies that Sanchez has enacted.
In his own concluding remarks, Sanchez focused on his government’s record of improving the economy, combating a drought, and managing Spain’s water supplies – an issue that is becoming an increasingly crucial concern as the effects of climate change become more pronounced.
He stated that neoliberal economic policies would not work well in Spain but that social democratic economic policies would work much better because of how well Spain manages its economy.
Currently, Socialists either govern alone or in coalition in ten of the twelve areas that will be voting for new leaders in the upcoming election.
The number of areas that the PP is able to wrest from the control of the Socialists will play a significant role in determining whether or not the public believes that Feijoo has won this first round, and whether or not his election as premier in a general election that is likely to take place in December is a foregone conclusion.
An issue with the extreme right
However, Feijoo faces his own challenges, the most significant of which is the far-right Vox party, which is currently the third-largest party in parliament and aspires to become a crucial partner for the PP.
Castilla y Leon is the only territory in Spain that will not hold elections on Sunday, and since last year the two parties have co-governed in that region together.
Since taking over as head of the PP the previous year, Feijoo has made it a priority to both moderate the party’s attitude and keep Vox at arm’s length. He is well aware that capturing the center is essential to achieving victory in the general election.
A good performance by Vox in the regional competition would place him in a disadvantageous position.
The final week of the election campaign was overshadowed by suspicions of fraud involving postal votes. Individuals aligned with the Socialist party have mostly been implicated in these charges, which were made public on Friday after the conclusion of the campaign.
Sanchez, who has made good governance a priority for his administration in contrast with the corruption of numerous recent right-wing regimes, faces yet another obstacle as a result of the claims, even though it is difficult to determine the impact of the allegations at this time.