What’s happening and how did we get here?
On Sunday 28 April, Spain will hold its third general election in four years. The poll was called by the country’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, after rightwing parties and separatist Catalan parties rejected his 2019 budget in February.
The Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) took office in June 2018 after using a successful motion of no-confidence to oust the corruption-mired People’s party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy.
But Sánchez’s minority government, which has held only 84 of the 350 seats in the Spanish congress of deputies following the last general election in 2016, has faced an uphill battle.
Critics accuse Sánchez of taking too soft an approach to the vexed question of Catalan independence and being too beholden to the parties that helped him clinch power.
What is the current political landscape?
Spanish politics has grown increasingly fragmented over the past few years.
Vox, which broke through in last December’s Andalucían regional elections, looks set to become the first avowedly far-right party to win more than a single seat in congress since Franco died in 1975. In short, a system long dominated by two main parties now finds itself with five.
What are the big issues?
According to the latest survey from Spain’s Centre for Sociological Research (CIS), people identify the country’s biggest problems as unemployment (61.8%), corruption and fraud (33.3%), and Spain’s politics, politicians and parties (29.1%).
Although the three rightwing parties talked a lot about immigration last summer and autumn as record numbers of people arrived in Spain by sea, the issue was a main worry for just 8.9% of those surveyed.
Conversely, the issue of Catalan independence, which appears to trouble just 11% of those polled, has remained one of the dominant political themes of the past few years and will have a strong role in the election.
Rajoy’s government took a tough line on the Catalan crisis, eventually stepping in and sacking the rebellious government of the regional president, Carles Puigdemont, and assuming direct control of Catalonia. But it also ordered fresh regional elections, in which separatist parties retained their majority.
Many voters are still angry over how Rajoy and other members of the political establishment handled the crisis, fuelling the rise of Vox.
Which parties are in the running and what do they offer?
The PSOE has, unsurprisingly, struggled to find a solution to the intractable problem of Catalan independence despite taking a firm, if less combative, approach than Rajoy’s administration. Parts of its legislative agenda have been stymied by its lack of MPs, but it has managed to raise the national minimum wage by 22%. Its most eye-catching goal – the exhumation of Franco from his hulking basilica outside Madrid – has proved difficult, but the dictator is to be reburied in less lavish surroundings in June.
The PP governed from 2011 until last year, when it was finally undone after a court case laid bare the corruption at its heart. It led to Mariano Rajoy becoming the first serving PM to testify in a criminal case. He was succeeded as party leader by Pablo Casado, who has dragged the party much further to the right in the hope of seeing off the challenge from Vox. Casado’s campaign has been aggressive but marred by mistakes: he recently managed to suggest that the PP would lower the national minimum wage. He has promised a far tougher approach to Catalan independence, spoken of the possibility of a return to more restrictive abortion laws and come out against the PSOE’s moves to introduce a euthanasia law.
Along with Podemos, the young, centre-right Citizens party achieved a breakthrough in the 2015 election, ending the PSOE and PP duopoly. The party has also shifted further to the right in recent months, and made the Catalan crisis a key focus. Its tough line on regional independence and rigorous defence of Spain’s national unity paid off in the 2017 Catalan regional elections, in which the party was the single biggest winner. But it still found itself unable to form a government in the region, allowing separatist parties back in to power. Before the no-confidence vote, Citizens was leading the polls, but has paid dearly for its decision not to back Sánchez’s successful bid to unseat the PP.
The anti-austerity Podemos, born of frustration and the indignados movement, looked set to leapfrog the PSOE and become the dominant leftwing political force in the 2016 general election. But mixed messages,