18th Mar 2018

Deja vu as jaded Spanish voters head to polls

  • The four main candidates (from left to right) Rajoy, Sanchez, Rivea and Iglesias. Many people feel jaded by political pledges (Photo: Podemos/Flickr)

In Plaza Anton Martin, a small square in central Madrid, a pre-election poster promised “a new country”, but many people feel jaded by political pledges.

Spain heads back to the polls on Sunday (26 June) for a repeat general election after the four main parties chosen in December failed to agree a government.

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  • A poster for the United Left in Madrid. The party's alliance with anti-austerity Podemos could help them take power. (Photo: Sarah Morris)

Few expect the new vote to end the stalemate, however.

Opinion polls forecast that the conservatives will again grab the most seats, but fall short of an absolute majority, while coalition options look as hard as ever.

A cartoon in El Mundo, a conservative daily, showed a tired-looking man opening the door to an opinion pollster. “Can you tell me who you’ll vote for in the general election in June?”, asks the pollster. “And in the general election in October? … And February?”.

The mood was different six months ago, when two new parties burst onto the political scene.

The anti-austerity Podemos (meaning “we can”) party and the liberal Ciudadanos (“citizens”) party promised to end corruption, elitism and political infighting.

TV cameras loved their young leaders, who won almost a third of seats in parliament, ending a decades-old duopoly of the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the Socialist Party (PSOE).

The stakes for Spain are higher now after six months of deadlock.

But turnout forecasts indicate that more people plan to stay at home. A recent poll by CIS said 71 percent of people definitely plan to vote compared to 75 percent in December.

The new parties still enjoy higher approval than the old ones, but their popularity is falling after just four months in parliament.

Podemos, which is running on a joint ticket with the Izquierda Unida (“united left”) party, is the only one forecast to significantly increase the number of its seats on Sunday, overtaking PSOE to grab second place.

Podemos claims the lead in a possible government with the PSOE and United Left. The radical left party taking power in the EU's fifth economy would likely send shockwavs throughout the continent.

Almost 64 percent of people told CIS that the PP had performed “badly” or “very badly” since December, but more than 50 percent said the same of Podemos.

“My father always told me ‘best vote for the old parties’ because they’ve already filled their pockets - the new ones will do that too,” Santiago Navajas, 63, told EUobserver in the Anton Martin market in Madrid.

Living on €400/month

Navajas’ pessimism might stem from his father’s experience of Spanish and Venezuelan politics.

His father emigrated to the Latin American country to escape the Spanish Civil War. The Podemos’ founders previous admiration of the late Venezuelan leader, leader Hugo Chavez doesn’t impress him. But nor do the other parties. Unemployed and living on benefits of €400 a month, he can’t see that changing after Sunday’s vote.

Spain’s economy is growing again, but one in five workers still can’t find a job.

Many companies have put investment on hold until they learn what kinds of policies the new government will implement. They are losing patience too.

“If the current leaders aren’t capable of achieving a quick deal, it’s best that they step aside for others who are able to agree with one another”, Javier Vega de Seoane, the chairman of a leading business association, the Circle of Entrepreneurs, said in a statement on Friday.

Many analysts predict the parties will take a new approach to coalition-building because voters wouldn’t stomach a third election.

But for the time being, their campaigns are as divisive as ever in a scramble to get the most seats and the upper hand in the negotiations to follow

Big issues disappear

The PP and the PSOE are trying to win back those who deserted them. Politicians of all flags have spent more time than ever on prime-time TV debates or popular stunts, such as playing table football or basketball with journalists.

Back in December, 42 percent of people went to the urns undecided how to vote.

The fancy campaigns have seen that number fall. But the number of people - almost one third - whose intentions remain blank is still high.

Julian Santamaria, a political science professor, said Sunday’s vote is unlikely to be any more decisive than the December one because the parties have not changed their programmes or debated their past policies.

In an editorial in the Ahora newspaper, entitled “Elections, what for?”, he also said that “the big themes seem to have disappeared” from the campaign.

Instead of ideas on what to do about issues such as unemployment, corruption, the public deficit or regional tensions, “everything has turned around a single question: the merits of each one to lead the formation of the government and the unworthiness of the rest.”

Meanwhile, the British referendum had hardly featured in the pre-election debate.

But the outcome of the Brexit vote fell on the last day of the Spanish campaign, prompting a record 12 percent drop on the country’s stock exchange.

Brexit factor

With the man parties all jumping on the result to make their case, the shock of the British vote could prove to be a deciding factor for those who minds were not made up.

For Unidos Podemos (“united we can”), the Podemos-United Left alliance, Brexit was the result of EU policies and German diktats which served the interests of the elite instead of Europe’s poor.

For the PP, the PSOE and Ciudadanos, the British vote showed the dangers of populism and of referendums. Their line targeted Podemos’ pledge to give voters in restive regions such as Catalonia a vote on whether to break away from Spain.

Nines, a 64 year-old who was waiting for a bus in Madrid's Anton Martin market, said Brexit meant “that elderly voters could be more worried now about choosing change”.

But she still intended to vote for Unidos Podemos because, she said, the United Left party leader Alberto Garzon is the most honest politician in the country.

“If people do a proper analysis of Brexit they’ll realise it happened because of the right wing”, she said.

Spain's Podemos sees a clear path to power

The anti-austerity party could finish second in the 26 June general election. Its leader Pablo Iglesias is beginning to believe he could be prime minister in a left-wing coalition.

Spanish election goes Venezuelan

The crisis in Venezuela has become central to the June election campaign, with radical-left Podemos being accused of being too close to the Chavist government.

Brexit nerves help traditional Spanish parties

Center-right PP of prime minister Rajoy and center-left PSOE came out first in Sunday's general election but failed to win majority. Anti-austerity Podemos lost 1 million votes.

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Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel was not the only German government official trying to water down an EU draft bill on CO2 emissions from passenger vehicles last year. In fact, three Berlin ministries were contradicting each other behind the scenes.

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