Spaniards began voting in an uncertain snap general election Sunday marked by a resurgence of the far-right after more than four decades on the outer margins of politics.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has voted and made an appeal to the people: “Let’s make this an open-door election day for the future of our country. Let’s participate, send a clear message of what Spain we want”, he said.
Opinion polls give Sanchez a win but without the necessary majority to govern alone, meaning he will have to seek alliances in a political environment that has soured since Catalonia’s failed secession bid.
By far the novelty of these elections is the emergence of far-right party Vox, which burst onto the scene in December regional polls in southern Andalusia and looks set to make its first-ever entrance into the national parliament.
Polls predict it could take more than 10 percent of the votes in a country that had no far-right party to speak of since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, in what is likely to cause further concern in Europe.
Polling stations opened at 9:00 am (0700 GMT) and will close at 8:00 pm local time (1800 GMT), with results announced later Sunday.
Sanchez, who took power in June after ousting conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote, has warned against Spain replicating what happened in Finland’s elections two weeks ago.
There, the far-right Finns Party came second, closely tailing the leftist Social Democrats, after polls initially predicted it would end up in fifth position.
In Spain, polls also forecast that Vox, with its ultra-nationalist rhetoric that advocates the “defence of the Spanish nation to the end,” will come in fifth place.
But analysts believe it could do better, saying there may be many “hidden” Vox supporters who lie when asked by pollsters who they will be voting for.
“There is a real, true risk,” Sanchez said this week, warning that a right-wing government supported by Vox could emerge in Spain after the elections, even if opinion polls say this is unlikely.
Founded by a former member of the conservative Popular Party (PP), with a strong stance against feminism and illegal immigration, Vox has risen thanks to its hard line against separatists in Catalonia.
The region in northeastern Spain was the scene of a secession attempt in 2017 that sparked the country’s biggest crisis in decades and caused major concern in Europe.
Since then, the crisis has continued to cast a pall over Spanish politics.