DUBLIN: For the third time in four years, the voters of Europe’s fourth largest economy will be heading to the polls to elect a new Spanish government.
Following the defeat of his minority government’s budget in the Madrid parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called a snap general election for April 20 — more than 16 months ahead of elections scheduled for 2020.
By calling the vote for the end of April, the Spanish leader has avoiding the possibility of a so-called “Super Sunday” election on May 26, with Spaniards already set to head to the polls in local and European elections.
Sanchez called the elections after a Friday morning cabinet meeting that reflected on the parliament defeat of his Socialist Party’s national budget — opposed by the bloc of Catalan separatists in the Madrid parliament along with deputies from the conservative Popular Party and centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens) party.
“Spain does not deserve to get stuck because of partisan interests,” Sanchez said in calling the snap general election. “Spain belongs to its citizens. We defend a country where there is room for everyone.”
Sanchez had taken power last March following the defeat of former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote that was the fallout of a widespread corruption scandal that saw senior figures in the Popular Party jailed for their part in an influence-peddling scheme, and his Socialists relied on the support of Basque deputies and others for a fragile majority.
Earlier this week, however, the trial of a dozen Catalan separatists got underway in a Madrid courthouse, with the defendants charged with rebellion and sedition for organising a referendum in the restive northeastern region on separation from Spain in October 2017. That vote had been declared illegal, Madrid took over control of Catalonia and called new regional elections while also pursuing legal charges against the organisers of the plebiscite. Since then, however, feelings have been running high, and the trial has brought the Madrid government’s actions under sharp scrutiny from the European Union.
The outcome of the vote, as things stand now, is far from certain. Sanchez’ Socialist, opinions polls say, is likely to win most votes — just not enough for a majority.
The Popular Party is facing a squeeze on its traditional support to an emerging force in Vox, a populist far-right party that secured seats in regional elections in Andalusia on a message of strong federal unity and a tough line against the Catalonians.
Anti-austerity group Popemos and the liberal Ciudadanos party have both gained support in the last two federal elections, making it more difficult for any single party to rule by itself.