‘Fed up’: Spaniards frustrated on eve of fourth election in four years | World news | The Guardian

Catalan separatism dominates debate ahead of poll that could redraw nation’s political map

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says he was forced to call another election after rival parties refused to co-operate to form a majority after the previous one in April 2019. Photograph: Jorge Guerrero/AFP via Getty Images

The two women who stand chatting in the porch of San Ginés church in Guadalajara on a crisp November afternoon speak eloquently for a large portion of the Spanish nation.

Estoy hasta el gorro,” says one after shaking her head and delivering a fusillade of sighs: I’m sick to the back teeth of it all.

Her companion nods: “We need a government that can actually govern.”

Like most Spaniards, the pair, who do not want to give their names nor say how they would vote, are not relishing Sunday’s general election – the country’s fourth in as many years.

“I just feel fed up and defrauded,” says the first woman.

“None of the politicians here seems to get it. We can’t go on like this. We can’t go on with more and more problems and more and more unemployment. People keep saying things are getting better but they’re not.”

The latest general election comes just seven months after the previous one, and fewer than six months after European, regional and municipal elections were held.

Since the end of April, the country has been in the hands of the acting government of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) won the last election but failed to win a majority.

The PSOE’s attempts to form a government came to nothing after the centre-right Citizens party ruled out any form of co-operation, and efforts to make a deal with the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos also proved fruitless.

Sánchez claims that his rivals’ intransigence left him with no choice but to call another election. The timing, however, is far from ideal.

The bitterly divisive question of Catalan independence re-erupted last month after Spain’s supreme court jailed nine separatist leaders for sedition over their roles in the failed push for independence two years ago, prompting violent protests on the streets of Barcelona.

The unrest was seized on by the parties of the Spanish right, who accused Sánchez of weakness in the face of such separatist provocation.

It has proved a particular gift to the far-right Vox party, which has seen a surge in support amid its calls for a radical recentralisation of Spain.

Polls suggest the party could now become the country’s third largest political force after the PSOE and the socialists’ traditional rival, the conservative People’s party (PP).

The Citizens party looks set to pay a high price for its decision to forfeit the centre ground and lurch to the right in the hope of competing with the PP and Vox.

If recent polls prove accurate, the party will see its seat count tumble from 57 to 20 or fewer.

Citizens' party leader, Albert Rivera (left), and Unidas Podemos’ leader, Pabo Iglesias. Citizens look set to lose seats to Vox.
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 Citizens’ party leader, Albert Rivera (left), and Unidas Podemos’ leader, Pablo Iglesias. Citizens look set to lose seats to Vox. Photograph: Juan Carlos Hidalgo/EPA

To make matters worse, Spain’s unemployment figures rose by almost 100,000 in October and the European commission has revised the country’s growth forecast down from 2.3% to 1.9% for this year, and from 1.9% to 1.5% for 2020.

Then there is the question of frustration and apathy. In April, turnout reached 75.5%, well up from the 69.8% of voters who headed to the polls in June 2016.

José Pablo Ferrándiz, chief researcher for the polling firm Metroscopia, believes turnout will be somewhere around 70% on Sunday.

In places such as Guadalajara, which lies an hour’s drive north-east of Madrid in Castilla-La Mancha, Citizens’ collapse could be Vox’s triumph.

Six months ago, the PSOE, the PP and Citizens each took one of the province’s three seats, with the latter edging out Vox by fewer than 3,500 votes.

“If you look at the map of the last election, the people scrapping over the last seat in many places were Citizens and Vox,” said Ferrándiz.

“Citizens won them last time round, but the party’s fall means that Vox won’t need to pick up many more votes to take them.”

Although the PSOE are again expected to finish first, polls suggest they may lose some of the 123 seats they won in April.

“Sánchez thought he’d keep the voters who supported him six months ago but also pick up some more from Citizens and so win a larger majority,” said Ferrándiz.

“But neither of those things appears to be happening. The battle is now between the other parties on the right – and abstention.”

Spanish far-right Vox supporters wave Spanish flags during a campaign rally in Santander. Vox has seen a surge of support.
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 Spanish far-right Vox supporters wave Spanish flags during a campaign rally in Santander. Vox has seen a surge of support. Photograph: Ander Gillenea/AFP via Getty Images

In keeping with the growing political fragmentation of recent years, things are also growing crowded on the Spanish left, with the PSOE and Podemos now joined by Más País (More Country), a party led by Íñigo Errejón, one of the founders of Podemos.

Whatever the result this weekend, negotiations to form a government promise to be as fraught and tortuous as last time, and a renewed impasse beckons.

Despite the weariness though, Vox is not the only party looking forward to Sunday.

The PP is expected to bounce back from its terrible showing in April, while the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) – the largest and most moderate of Catalonia’s three pro-independence parties – is expected to finish first in the region and perhaps extend its lead over the Catalan branch of the socialist party.

The ERC favours a less confrontational and more pragmatic approach to the quest for Catalan independence than Together for Catalonia, the separatist party led by the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.

Three dummies entitled ‘Democracy’, ‘Right to protest’ and ‘Freedom’ hang from a bridge in Girona, Catalonia on 2 November. Division over the Catalan independence issue has impacted the political landscape across Spain.
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 Three dummies entitled ‘Democracy’, ‘Right to protest’ and ‘Freedom’ hang from a bridge in Girona, Catalonia on 2 November. Division over the Catalan independence issue has impacted the political landscape across Spain. Photograph: Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images

The strategy appears to be paying off in a large chunk for the region – where many people are still furious over the supreme court’s verdict.

“Perhaps we’re the ones who can make more progress than anybody else because we keep our ideas but we have a plan to implement the republic, even if it’s not magic and we’re not saying that things can be done overnight,” said Alfred Bosch, the ERC politician who serves as the region’s foreign minister.

“Perhaps that looks more realistic and more appealing.”

Realism may abound in places such as Guadalajara, but political appeal is in rather shorter supply.

Jesús Iglesias, a 49-year-old security guard from the city, lists his worries as he takes a cigarette break: pensions; the cost of renting; the situation in Catalonia, and what he sees as an excess of ineffectual publicly elected officials.

“We need to get rid of the political old guard and get some new, young people in,” he says. “Given the size of the country, we have far too many politicians and local councillors.”

Iglesias may also be “hasta el gorro”, and torn between the PP and Citizens, but he knows he once again has a democratic duty to fulfil on Sunday.

And besides: “If I don’t vote, I can’t complain.”

Source: ‘Fed up’: Spaniards frustrated on eve of fourth election in four years | World news | The Guardian

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