Spain began voting on Sunday in dress rehearsal-like municipal and regional elections ahead of year-end legislative elections in which polls predict a defeat for Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and a return to power. power of the right.
Polling stations open at 9 a.m. local time (7 a.m. GMT) and will close at 8 p.m. (6 p.m. GMT). The first results are expected around 10 p.m. local time (8 p.m. GMT), as there are no exit polls in Spain.
Accompanied by his wife, Mr. Sánchez voted shortly before 9:30 a.m. in an office in Madrid.
The elections concern all of the 8,131 municipalities, ie 35.5 million voters, as well as the assemblies – and therefore also the executives – of 12 of the 17 autonomous regions. 18.3 million voters are affected by this second vote.
“If the left does better than expected and keeps control of most of the regional governments at stake (…), that says that the legislative elections will be very tight and will bode well for its chances of staying in power” at the end of the year, said Federico Santi, an analyst at the Eurasiagroup think tank, in a study published this week.
But if the polls, which predict a push to the right, are right, the successes in the regions will provide the leader of the main opposition party, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, who is at the head of the People’s Party (PP, conservative), “the momentum” needed to win the legislative elections in the fall, continues Santi.
Prime Minister since 2018, Sanchez approaches this double examination with several handicaps: the wear and tear of power, the resumption of inflation – even if it is much lower in Spain than in most other countries of the European Union – and the resulting sharp drop in purchasing power.
So much so that Feijoo has done everything to turn these elections into a national referendum on Pedro Sanchez, whom he describes as subservient to the far left but also to the Basque and Catalan separatist parties on which his minority government depends in Parliament to vote. his reforms.
“I come to ask for the voices of Spain, which wants to end + Sanchisme + from Sunday”, Feijoo launched Friday evening in Madrid during his last electoral rally, using the term he coined to describe the policy. of the prime minister.
Sanchez, meanwhile, campaigned on his government’s record, particularly in the economic sphere and in the fight against drought and water management, an increasingly central theme in Spain.
“Social democratic policies suit Spain better than neoliberal policies (because) we manage the economy much better,” he said on Friday evening as he ended his campaign in Barcelona (Northeast). .
Sanchez is all the more vulnerable as, of the 12 regions renewing their assembly, the Socialists lead 10, either directly or as members of a coalition.
The number of regions that the PP manages to wrest from the Socialists will depend on the perception in public opinion that Feijoo has won – or not – this first round and that his arrival in La Moncloa, the seat of the presidency of the government, at the end of the year is inevitable. He also plays very big.
But Nunez Feijoo has his own problems. The main one is Vox, a far-right party which constitutes the third force in Parliament and whose ambition is to become an indispensable partner to the People’s Party to govern in the regions, then at the national level. Last year, the PP and Vox have since governed together in Castile and Leon, a region that will not vote on Sunday.
Aware of the fact that the legislative elections will be won at the center, Feijoo has endeavored, since his accession to the head of the PP a year ago, to offer the image of a moderate party and therefore to keep Vox at a distance. A very good Vox score in many regions would therefore be dangerous for him.
The campaign, which ended on Friday evening, has been marked in recent days by several cases of fraud, in this case alleged purchases of postal votes, which have mainly implicated elected officials or socialist candidates. .