Spain: an election full of uncertainty

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's Socialist Party has good chances of winning Spain's parliamentary elections on Sunday according to polls. But the prospect of the far-right Vox party claiming seats in the national parliament for the first time may offer the conservatives and liberals an opportunity to prevent Sánchez from remaining prime minister. Journalists see the outcome of the election campaign as uncertain and many questions left open.

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Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

Far right with a hazy profile

In Upsala Nya Tidning's view the right-wing populists of Spain's Vox party lack a clear profile:

“What exactly the far-right Vox party is trying to say with its 'Make Spain Great Again' slogan (yes, in English) remains a mystery. Is it an allusion to the conquistadores? Or the Franco dictatorship? ... How do you deal with a party like Vox whose profile is far less sharp than that of its right-wing populist colleagues? The leader Santiago Abascal is friends with Marine Le Pen, uses strong nationalist rhetoric, but favours cooperation with the EU. He rails against immigration in general and against Muslims in particular - as improbable as that may be in a country that without the influence of Arab culture would consist mainly of statues of horses rearing and beaches full of package holiday tourists.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Election campaign focussed on the wrong issues

The contending parties are saying little about the issues that are key for the country's future, the Financial Times notes:

“The election campaign has barely addressed any of Spain's most pressing issues, such as persistent unemployment, the economic slowdown, how to trim the budget deficit or how to punch its weight in the EU. There has been much vituperation on the Catalan issue, but few practical proposals about how to defuse the stand-off. Spain's democracy has matured over four decades. Sadly, this is difficult to tell from most of today's political leaders, only one of whom, Mr Sánchez, was born before Franco's death.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Hot air and more hot air

El Periódico de Catalunya also finds the election campaign disappointing:

“The harsh tone is impeding a calm economic debate that should be focussed on reducing the glaring inequalities. On ensuring that the decelerating growth rate doesn't slow down the fragile recovery after the big crisis. On strengthening a labour market marked by precarious and temporary jobs and low salaries and on agreeing on a way to guarantee the purchasing power of the pensions. In a global context full of uncertainty and with Europe's role very much in question these are crucial topics which are unfortunately being drowned by all the clamour and fury of the campaign.”

Le Point (FR) /

Europe needs a strong government in Madrid

Even if Pedro Sánchez looks set to continue governing a return to stable times is still a long way off for Spain, Le Point believes:

“His social reforms - based on a 22 percent rise in the minimum wage, higher pensions and civil servants' salaries, rent regulation and extended parental leave - will take a heavy toll on the country's competitiveness. The readiness for dialogue with the Catalan nationalists is blocked by their radicalism. ... Spain is now the European country receiving the highest number of migrants, a situation that is causing growing tensions. Spain is drifting towards a weak government - against a backdrop of political instability and territorial tensions that pose a threat to national unity, and this is hardly conducive to a strong commitment to Europe.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Right and separatists feeding off each other

Showing willingness to enter a dialogue won't pay off in the Spanish election campaign, columnist Aldo Cazzullo complains in Corriere della Sera:

“The right, including the far right - which is the real novelty in the election campaign - needs the Catalonian secessionists to be able to present itself as Spain's saviour. And the Catalan secessionists would secretly be quite happy if the right were to win. The outgoing prime minister Pedro Sánchez is offering dialogue. But the secessionists don't want dialogue, they want rupture.”

Público (PT) /

Sánchez's strongest weapon

The far-right party Vox was excluded from the two televised debates aired on Spanish television on Monday and Tuesday because it has no seats in the national parliament. In Público's view it would have been better for Sánchez if the party had taken part:

“For tactical reasons Sánchez wanted the far-right party Vox to be included in the second, which was broadcast on a private channel - so that he could lump the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox all together and play them off against each other. Because the fear of the far right is Sánchez's strongest weapon for mobilising leftist voters. ... The big unknown remains the relationship between Sánchez and the separatists, whose support may be necessary for investiture of a Socialist-led government.”

El País (ES) /

The debate should be on a higher level

El País is mystified by the fact that foreign policy is barely featuring in the election campaign:

“While Europe's future is part of the national debate in many other countries, in our country its absence from this campaign - and specifically from the two key electoral TV debates - is astounding. ... Anyone observing the process from the outside might conclude that Spain is alone in the world. What is our country's role in the Mediterranean? And in the European Union? What role can it play as a bridge between Europe and Latin America? ... These are relevant topics that would elevate the level of our debate without detracting from the importance of our internal affairs, because in the end very little of what is happening to us today can be understood outside the European and global context.” (ES) /

Reactionary wave hard to assess

How well the far-right party Vox fares in the election will be decisive, Ignacio Escolar, editor-in-chief of, concludes:

“We will see what impact the absence of Vox from the televised debates has. Whether its campaign of lies and hatred on social networks and Whatsapp groups is more effective than television, as was already the case with Bolsonaro's victory in Brazil and Brexit. If the polls are right about Vox, the left will govern. If the bullrings full of Vox supporters and resounding with military marches are not an indication of a reactionary wave that the polls aren't reflecting, Pedro Sánchez will remain head of government. But if the polls are wrong, Casado [PP] and Rivera [Ciudadanos] will soon be best friends again. And Santiago Abascal [Vox] will be on the photo of the cabinet.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Shift to the right hampers government building

Spain faces the threat of a phase of political instability after the elections, The Irish Times fears:

“The prolonged Catalan crisis, so poorly and opportunistically handled by Mariano Rajoy's PP governments, in turn provoked a resurgence of aggressive Spanish nationalism. This ideology has been warmly embraced by the PP's new leader, Pablo Casado. Perhaps more surprisingly, it has also been espoused by Ciudadanos, reducing the chances of the formation of a stable centrist government with the PSOE. … Whatever the outcome, the odds are that Spain's politics will remain fractious and unstable. That is bad news for the country and the EU.”

El País (ES) /

Vox voters want cultural war

Political scientist José María Lassalle describes the mentality of Vox voters in El País:

“We are talking about a section of the electorate that celebrates conflict because it believes that democracy is a cultural war in which the one side fights for hegemony over the other. This is a section of society that doesn't believe that in a world facing radical changes there is still a place for principles like dialogue, freedom, reason, limited government power, cosmopolitanism, pluralism, the absence of borders for foreigners, the separation of law and religion, consensus, or a market without protectionism.”