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8th November 2019, 17:26

Spain prepares for Sunday's general election - the fourth in as many years - with the result uncertain

Spain will hold its fourth general election in as many years on Sunday.

The Socialist party led by Pedro Sanchez currently leads polls, but he seems unlikely to win a majority of seats in parliament. Recent events and voter fatigue make Sunday’s vote uncertain.

The previous election, in April, was won by the Socialist party led by Pedro Sánchez, the acting prime minister. But he only had 123 of the 350 seats in congress, falling considerably short of a majority. The PSOE did even better in local and European elections a month later. But polls suggest Mr Sánchez has wasted away his advantage and could get slightly fewer votes.

Despite the need for political pacts in the Spanish parliament, there has been no appetite for discussing an alliance at Ciudadanos. The right wing party led by Albert Riveracould be punished for not being more constructive.

During the summer Mr Sánchez flirted with the idea of forming a coalition with Podemos, but the radical-left party led by Pablo Iglesias rejected his terms. Polls suggest support for Podemos is resilient.

The PSOE fought April’s election on the idea of creating a fairer society in the wake of Spain’s punishing economic slump of 2008-13 and also about stopping Vox, the new far-right nationalist party. There was a high turnout of 76%.

But this election is different. The main issue is Catalonia, after the Supreme Court last month imposed harsh prison sentences on nine Catalan separatist leaders for sedition over their role in a referendum that was deemed illegal and the subsequent declaration of independence in October 2017.

Several days of big and sometimes violent protests in Barcelona followed the sentences, with nightly images of burning barricades. About 600 people - including police - were injured and there was €10m of damage. The Socialists insist that sooner or later the Catalan conflict will require a political solution. Some expect attempts to disrupt voting in Catalonia on Sunday.

In electoral terms, the threat of secession in Catalonia and the accompanying disorder benefit the right in Spain. The conservative People’s Party led by Pablo Casado is set to improve on its poor result in April. Under pressure from Vox, the PP veered to the right in the spring; it is now moving back towards the centre.

Support for Vox is rising. Its ultranationalistic leader Santiago Abascal frequently criticises illegal immigration. But as important to Vox is recentralising government, banning separatist parties and cracking down on the Catalan regional administration. Vox benefited from Mr Abascal’s inclusion in Monday’s televised election debate, which effectively mainstreamed the party.

The election is unusually open and the polls hard to read. Given elections are now so common in Spain, turnout is likely to fall.

A Socialist minority government is the most likely outcome, although victory for the right is also possible. Novelty has carried some advantage in Spanish politics in the past few years, initially benefitting Podemos, and then Ciudadanos. Worryingly for those who live and work on the Rock, it may now be the turn of anti-Gibraltar Vox to benefit from that novelty.