Tactical voting or conviction, what will drive the Spanish elections?

A woman looks at the new election poster of PSOE party depicting Spanish acting Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, at the headquarters of PSOE in Madrid on 28 October. [EPA-EFE/Emilio Naranjo]

Spanish voters are heading back to the polls on Sunday (10 November) for the fourth general election in less than four years to see if they can finally put an end to the political deadlock. EURACTIV’s partner Euroefe reports.

An overarching uncertainty this time around is whether people will vote tactically by pooling votes behind a party most likely to win, or instead cast their ballots in line with precise political convictions.

Another factor that could affect the result is voter fatigue.

Having alternated in power since the return of democracy in Spain in the late 1970s, the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the conservative Popular Party (PP) have found themselves unable to form a majority government since December 2015.

Spain’s proportional voting system, based on the D’Hondt method, lends itself to the creation of strong parties that can rely on the support of smaller regional groups whenever they fell short of an absolute majority in Parliament.

But a recent breakdown in relations between national and regional parties in Catalonia, where separatist sentiment has been reignited by a recent court ruling, and the emergence of new parties like the far-right Vox, the centre-right Ciudadanos (Cs), the left-wing Podemos and Más País, which splintered off from the former, challenge the status quo.

The latest pre-election poll from Spain’s public research body CIS suggests the PSOE and the PP will once again fall short of an absolute majority.

If so, the onus will fall on political leaders to decide whether the country’s next executive breaks with decades of tradition by forming a coalition.

Fed up with voting?

“I don’t feel like it but I will go and vote,” Soraya Yagüe, a surgical assistant who recently moved back to Madrid from the UK, told EFE.

In her opinion, the PSOE and the PP have purposefully pushed for these elections and plan to govern in a coalition together as a way to fend off the smaller parties nipping at their ankles.

Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE won the 28 April election with 123 of the 350 seats in Parliament and everything pointed to a coalition deal between his party and Podemos, led by Pablo Iglesias.

Weeks later, talks between the two collapsed and, as the parties traded jibes, the animosity between them became clear to see.

Journalist Juli Amadeu still thinks the left-wing parties will emerge with a majority and hopes that this time they will land an agreement.

“A deal will be necessary in any case, and we have to get past the blockade because we need a government that offers solutions to all the problems in the country.”

The Spanish economy, which has barely recovered from the serious financial crisis of the last decade, is now showing new signs of a slowdown, something businesses put down to political instability.

The European Commission has revised Spain’s economic growth outlook for 2019 down to 1.9% from 2.3% and unemployment is close to 14%.

Salaries in Spain are low compared to countries like Germany, France and the UK and many jobs are precarious, which prevents young people from becoming independent. Adults struggle to save money and many people living in poverty see no way out.

According to the Catholic NGO Caritas, 2.4 million out of 47 million Spaniards live in extreme poverty and 1.8 million suffer from social exclusion.

A farewell to bipartisanship

Alejandro Rosa, a 33-year-old musician in Madrid, said it was time for the country to shirk off its political blinkers.

“A lot of people vote for X party because their family votes for it and it’s their ‘colour’ and the others are from another ‘colour,’” he told EFE.

“Vote for the ideas and not the colours, that’s the main change that could benefit the country.”

But Mercedes Sánchez Lopez, who works in court administration, foresees a continuous deadlock.

“I think that bipartisanship is over. And furthermore, the polls are very tight.”

“If you do the maths, I don’t think this new election will give us a new government,” Sánchez, who said she was on the right of the political spectrum, predicted.

One of her fears was the prospect that the PSOE would turn to Catalan separatist parties for support in the chamber.

This is one of the main arguments emanating from Spain’s right-wing parties, who want to mobilise an electorate fearful of the “rupture” of Spanish territorial integrity.

Left-wing parties, conversely, emphasise the importance of preventing the PP, Cs and Vox from working together, as they have done already in the regional chambers of Andalusia, in southern Spain, and Madrid following the last regional elections.

Abstention is a common issue for those on the left, and the PSOE hopes to mobilise tactical voting to face off the PP.

Political scientist Ainhoa Uribe from the San Pablo University in Madrid said that the November election could actually benefit the two heavyweight parties if there is a return of tactical voting.

“The problem in Spain isn’t the ideological polarisation between the PSOE and the PP but rather their inability to let the most-voted party form a government, which means they would not have to make deals with parties with more extreme or separatist policies.”

For some voters, the prospect of a coalition is attractive.

“This is an opportunity in which history is giving us a chance to mature as a democracy,” David Roca, 53, told Efe in an interview outside the Madrid-based Congress.

“Up until now we’ve never needed coalitions to leave behind this dualism that we have and to improve, advance, compromise, grow and accept that that’s what democracy is,” the evangelical preacher from Barcelona added.

What remains to be seen now is whether the politicians can be converted to the idea of a coalition and deliver it in time for Christmas. 

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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