- The latest developments
- Polls opened at 9 am (0700 GMT).
- The Postal Service says that 2.47 million people have voted by postal vote
MADRID (Reuters) – Spaniards began voting on Sunday in a potentially close general election that could see Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s ruling Socialists lose power and a far-right party formed part of a new government for the first time in 50 years.
Voting began at 9 am (0700 GMT) and will close at 8 pm (1800 GMT), when the polls will be announced. Experts say the final result is expected to be decided by less than a million votes and fewer than 10 seats in the 350-seat parliament.
Sanchez has called for early elections after the left suffered a rout in local elections in May, but his gamble on his opponents’ fault could backfire.
Opinion polls show the election will likely win Alberto Nunez Figo’s centre-right People’s Party, but to form a government it will need to partner with Santiago Abascal’s far-right Vox party. It will be the first time that a far-right party has entered government since the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in the 1970s.
Many Spaniards are outraged that they are called to vote in the height of the hot summer when they are on vacation. The Postal Service reported Saturday that postal votes hit an all-time record of 2.47 million, with many people choosing to cast their ballots from the beach or the mountains.
“The status quo scenario and a hung parliament remains a real possibility, combined odds are 50% likely,” Barclays wrote in a recent note to clients, citing the slim margin in favor of PP and general uncertainty regarding polling and voter turnout.
The outcome could hinge on whether Figo or Sanchez get enough support from the smaller parties to form a coalition government.
The Prime Minister’s Socialist Minority Government (PSOE) is in coalition with the far-left Unidas Podemos who is running in Sunday’s elections under the Sumar platform.
She has passed progressive laws on euthanasia, transgender rights, abortion, and animal rights, and told voters those rights could be stripped away if the anti-feminist Vox party focused on family values is part of the next government.
Sanchez, in office since 2018, has seen his tenure as prime minister marked by crisis management – from the COVID pandemic and its economic impacts to the politically devastating consequences of Catalonia’s failed 2017 independence bid.
Experts say PPP leader Vigo, who has never lost an election in his native Galicia, has exploited his reputation for dullness, selling himself as a stable and safe hand, which may appeal to some voters.
The formation of a new government depends on complex negotiations that may take weeks or months and may end in new elections.
This uncertainty could affect Madrid’s effectiveness as the current host of the six-month rotating EU Council presidency, as well as its spending of EU money to recover from the coronavirus.
(Reporting by Jessica Jones – Editing) By Nick McPhee and Frances Kerry
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