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Spanish Prime Minister and candidate for the Spanish Socialist PSOE party Pedro Sanchez waves during a campaign rally in Torremolinos, on November 6, 2019, ahead of November 10 general election. Image Credit: AFP

On Tuesday night, Spanish voters could choose whether to tune into the last and crunch televised leaders’ debate before Sunday’s general election, or watch Barcelona take on Prague at the Camp Nou and Valencia host Lille in Champions League qualifying football.

The politicians lost.

With Spaniards facing their fourth general election in as many years, it was an easy win for Lionel Messi and company. Simply put, the voters of Spain are just fed up with the entire political process that has resulted in parliamentary stalemate — and all of the opinion polls point to Sunday’s national vote being equally inconclusive.

Spanish law prohibits the publication of any opinion polls in the week leading up to voting day so it’s hard to tell just what, if any, impact the leaders had in trying to sway the unconvinced viewers who choose them over Barca or Valencia. The last round of opinion polls posted in Monday’s main Madrid newspapers pointed to gridlock.

Polls carried out by NC Report for La Razon, GAD3 for ABC and SigmaDos for El Mundo pointed to a Socialist win but still short of a majority to form a government.

That five candidates for the job of prime minister faced off in that televised debate shows just how fragmented mainstream Spanish politics has become

- Mick O'Reilly

The Socialist party of acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez will lose some steam to around 120 seats, with far-right party Vox gaining track and becoming third biggest party with around 40 seats in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies.

The centre-right People’s Party which, along with the Socialists, has dominated Spain’s political landscape for most of its recent history, would rise sharply with liberal Ciudadanos being the most damaged by the repeat election with less than a third of the seats they got in April.

That five candidates for the job of prime minister faced off in that televised debate shows just how fragmented mainstream Spanish politics has become. Before this political uncertainty that has gripped the nation for the past four years, Spain’s politics was pretty straight forward — a two-way division between the conservative People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists, the PSOE.

No majority

Now, unless there’s some last-minute seismic shift in voting intentions, it’s clear no one will be able to claim a majority. What’s also clear is that tensions are running very high between Catalonian separatists and federalists still three weeks after nine pro-independence leaders were jailed in Madrid for organising the self-rule referendum back in October, 2017.

Those tensions centred on Spain’s restive second-largest city of Barcelona, however, may not mean that turnout in Sunday’s general election will spike. Political analysts are actually predicting that voter fatigue will play a part.

So far since December 20 2015, the voters of Spain have visited their sociedads and town halls to vote in three general elections, a European Parliament ballot and to elect regional and local governments. Is it any wonder that fewer will turn out for Sunday’s contest?

A low turnout, analysts say, will hurt Sanchez and his Socialists and Podemos, arguing that parties on the right tend to be more organised and get their vote out on the day when it counts.

Sanchez too is facing criticism for failing to reach a new coalition deal after the April 28 election. Months of negotiations led by the PSOE have failed to break the deadlock, and it is Sanchez who has spent a good proportion of his time on the campaign trail explaining why he wasn’t able to reach a deal with others in the Chamber of Deputies. There’s a feeling that this time around, those who do turn out and vote will punish Sanchez for his perceived failure to reach a coalition agreement.

Fractured political system

The December 2015 vote also resulted in deadlock — and Spaniards voted again in June 2016. Then, Mariano Rajoy managed to put together a coalition after months of talks. That government fell because of the intervention of Sanchez who, supported by Basque nationalists, succeeded in passing a vote of no confidence in Rajoy’s administration. Since then, the bedrock of Spain’s political system has been fractured — and Sanchez has failed to put together a stable government capable of lasting a full term.

The caretaker prime minister has been stung too by a well-aimed barb from Podemos that he went on vacation for the entire month of August instead of trying to negotiate a coalition agreement. Podemos also say that Sanchez has only used the Catalonia crisis to try and negotiate a centre-left agreement between the Socialists and the People’s Party.

Vox, the upstart neo-fascist party that has tapped into Spaniards who fondly remember the four-decade of authoritarian rule by General Franciso Franco with pride, say that the Catalonians are essentially staging a coup d’etat and must be dealt with swiftly and sternly — regardless of long and loudly the Catalonians protest.

What’s more, Vox wants all of Spain’s 19 regional assemblies abolished in favour of a strong single government in Madrid. And that might just mean fewer elections too for vote-weary Spaniards.

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