“Mucho calor”. That’s the most common expression you hear in Spain now. “It’s very hot.” And the reply is always, “Si, mucho calor”.
It’s so hot now across much of the Iberian Peninsula that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London has taken the unusual step of issuing an alert to Brits who are about to embark on their summer holidays this week as schools wrap up for their six-week break, to take extreme caution when it comes to the weather. Drink lots of water and avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day as temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius.
Adding to the temperature right now is a heated political debate over the future direction of Spain. On Sunday, there is a general election in the nation of 48 million — it’s the closest race in decades — and Spanish voters face a very stark choice between left and right.
Or returning an extreme right-wing party to power in the nation that is still wrestling with the ghosts of the decades when it was ruled by General Francisimo Franco. Yes, it’s that stark of a choice.
Vox and PP on the rise?
And if the latest opinion polls are to be believed there is every likelihood that the anti-immigrant, antifeminist Vox party will be part of the new national coalition government in Madrid.
Since the first week in June, Spanish schools have been on their three-month summer break — and that means that an estimated 10 million Spaniards are on holidays too during this heat dome. And the last thing on their minds will be casting a ballot in Sunday’s general election.
And even if they did, chances are that a good proportion of those voters are in the mountains of the North or on the beach too in search of cooler climes — simply removed from their normal registered voting addresses.
For the past four years, Spain has been led by a left-wing coalition in which the Socialist Party (PSOE) is the largest, and its leader Pedro Sanchez has been Prime Minister. He called the snap general election in May after his junior coalition partners were mauled in municipal elections.
Those minor parties have since coalesced under an umbrella group, Sumar. Sunday’s race offers a choice to voters of either voting for candidates on the left, PSOE and Sumar, or those on the right, with the Popular Party (PP) willing to sit in a national coalition with Vox.
As a result of those May regional and municipal elections, Vox and PP have already agreed to similar working arrangements in two of Spain’s 19 provinces.
But never before has a general election been called in the high heat of July — and rarely have the stakes been as high.
To win a majority in the House of Deputies in Madrid, parties must get to the magic number of 176 seats.
Under Spanish law, opinion polls can’t be published within a week of polling, which is why the latest and last set of numbers makes for particularly keen reading.
The PP is on course to be the latest in the new parliament and polls put its support at between 32 and 34 per cent. That could translate into between 131 and 151 seats. Vox? It has between 12 and 14 per cent of the vote — meaning it could win between 15 and 25 seats. That would put the PP-Vox coalition close to power, or with the slimmest of majorities.
Sanchez’ Socialists are registering just under 30 per cent, giving them between 98 and 115 seats. Add in Sumar, who are on a similar level of support as Vox, and the PSOE-led coalition looks likely to have up to 150 seats.
To hold on to power, Sanchez will have to do a deal with Basque and Catalan representatives — parties that of their very nature want at best to weaken the powers of the Madrid government, at worst lead to breakaway regions in Spain’s north and northeast.
The prospect of Sanchez doing a deal with these parties is itself a red rag to the bull of Vox. It has already branded Sanchez a “traitor” for pardoning Catalan leaders who were jailed for sedition for organising an illegal referendum on the region’s sovereignty five years ago, and it favours abolishing the upper house of Madrid’s parliament and rolling back the powers of the provincial assemblies across Spain’s regions.
The party wants to curtail women’s rights, restrict access to abortion, and repeal a law on euthanasia passed two years ago.
Spain, like every other European Union member, has been hit by the economic fallout of Covid and from Ukraine war. With an unemployment rate of 12.7 per cent, Spain has the highest workless issue in the economic bloc, which is party why a call from Suman to grant every person aged between 18 and 23 a grant of €20,000 to kick-start their lives has helped create an uptick for the left in polls in recent weeks.
Whether Spanish voters are prepared to shift their nation to the right come Sunday remains to be seen. While the EU is watching the vote closely, so too will be the 28,000 residents of Gibraltar. Since 1713, the tiny enclave to the south of Spain has remained a British possession.
Under the dictatorship of General Franco between 1936 and 1974, tensions ran high between Spain and the British outpost. It’s only since Britain joined the EU that tensions have eased, and in 1984 the frontier was reopened allowing some 13,000 people living in Spain to cross to work daily.
Should Vox be part of a new government, chances are Gibraltar will return to very limited access to the mainland. And that will heat up tensions even more.