Conservatives aim to unseat Pedro Sanchez as Spain votes in summer elections

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Spaniards go to the polls on Sunday with a choice of re-electing Pedro Sanchez and his breakaway left-wing coalition or letting the conservatives roll back the prime minister’s reforms in a possible deal with the far right.

Most opinion polls indicate that the opposition People’s Party will win the early general elections, but it does not achieve an outright majority. Alberto Nunez Figo, leader of the People’s Party, will likely need Vox’s support to take office, meaning the hard right could enter government for the first time since Spain’s return to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

A conservative win would make Spain the latest European country to move to the right, joining Italy – whose Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni appeared via video link at a Vox rally this month – as well as Greece, Sweden and Finland.

Feijóo pledged to bring efficiency and “dignity” to government, restore trust in institutions and repeal or amend laws that enshrined transgender rights, decriminalized euthanasia and aimed to address the legacy of the Spanish Civil War.

He describes himself as a moderate, but an alliance with Vox will bring demands for extremism. The far-right party led by Santiago Abascal is skeptical of climate change, hostile to immigration and wants to repeal a law that supports LGBT rights.

Sanchez, who leads a Socialist-led coalition, has been the underdog since suffering a defeat in local elections in May. He insists he will win “against all odds” and warns that the People’s Party and Vox will run the country from 2023 to “1973”.

In an interview with El País newspaper, he said: “There is something much more dangerous than Vox, and that is the presence of PP that assumes the policies and positions of Vox.”

According to El País simulation, Sanchez only has a 15-16 percent chance of getting another term. There is a 55 percent chance of a PP-Vox coalition, but it is likely that Spain’s small regional party pool means that the right- and left-wing blocs do not reach an outright majority of 176 seats in the 350-seat Congress. This will open the door to re-election, as happened in 2015-2016 and 2019.

The prime minister wanted to fight the election on two fronts: the economy, which has a headline inflation rate of just 1.9 percent, and high employment by Spanish standards; and his legislative achievements, which include reforms to increase pensions, end abuse of temporary employment contracts, regulate housing rents, and improve access to abortions.

But it is late because the People’s Party campaigned around the figure of the Prime Minister and the “Frankenstein” political alliances he built to pass the laws.

The outcome will depend on how many disaffected socialist voters the People’s Party can attract, how many right-wingers can drop out of Vox, and whether Sanchez is able to energize left-wing voters with his warnings against ultraconservatives.

Pollsters expect a high turnout of more than 24 million voters. Although record numbers voted by mail from the beach because Sanchez called the election in the holiday season, long lines can be expected before polls close at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Feijóo offered some obvious ideas such as lowering income taxes, reducing the size of government, and slowing the transition to more green energy. But his campaign was mostly negative and centered around the goal of ending “.Sanchismo’, a political ideology he defined as “the sum total of lies, manipulation and ugliness.”

“The elections weren’t won by the opposition. The government lost them. Feijóo’s position was that the government is doing badly and he just needs to avoid making mistakes and be a force for calm,” said Lorenzo Bernaldo de Quiros, president of Freemarket, a Madrid-based consultancy.

Figo’s message about Sanchez’s “lies” damaged the prime minister. Most damaging were Sanchez’s pledges not to work with the political parties whose votes he ended up relying on to pass laws.

One controversial ally is the radical left-wing Podemos party with which he formed a volatile coalition in 2019 – the first ruling coalition of its kind in modern Spain. Podemos blamed a failed sexual consent law that ended up overturning the prison sentences of more than 1,000 convicted sex offenders.

When Feijóo attacked Sánchez on the law in the couple’s only electoral debate, the prime minister lost his nerve and, according to analysts, lost the contest.

The prime minister was also hurt by his reliance on the parliamentary votes of EH Bildu, a Basque separatist party led by a convicted member of the disbanded terrorist group ETA. He has also been criticized for courting Catalan separatists by pardoning nine leaders imprisoned over an unconstitutional referendum in 2017.

In recent weeks, the governing agreements between the CPC and Fox at the local and regional levels have confirmed some of Sanchez’s warnings. The two parties abolished environmental departments, canceled equality initiatives, and banned LGBTQ flags in public buildings.

In the final days of the campaign, Feijóo was criticized for refusing to participate in a second debate with Sánchez and had to temporarily stop campaigning due to a bad back. He was also caught making the false claim that PP had always increased pensions in line with inflation when he was in government.

The campaign has taken Spain’s political polarization to new levels, said Maryam Martínez Paskonan, a professor of political science at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

“One of the things that struck me the most is that both sides use the same language,” she said.

“The word lie no longer means anything. There is a confrontation where they accuse each other of lying. We have a problem because they emptied these words of meaning.”

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