Spain turned out wearily to vote in its fourth general election in as many years yesterday as polls suggested nearly a third of voters stayed at home with no obvious end in sight to the country’s political crisis.
Official figures from Spain’s Interior Ministry last night showed that just under 57pc of people had cast their votes by 6pm, down four percentage points on the last election in April. Around 37 million Spaniards have the right to vote.
Earlier this year, a high turnout from Socialist party supporters helped Pedro Sanchez, the acting prime minister, win 29pc of the popular vote, but he was unable to gain majority parliamentary support.
Talks with the left-wing Podemos party failed, and centrist and right-wing groups vetoed him for his past willingness to negotiate with parties pursuing independence for the region of Catalonia.
Mr Sanchez’s final campaign message before the election urged voters to turn out “so that there can be a government and to keep the Francoists in check”, in reference to Vox, a populist right-wing party that burst into parliament in April, and which was polling in third at around 14pc before yesterday’s ballot.
Pablo Casado, the leader of Spain’s main conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), also said he hoped for a good turnout that would help to “unblock” the impasse.
Predictions suggested that the right-of-centre bloc comprising the PP, Vox and liberal Ciudadanos would fall short of a majority – as would the sum of the Socialist party, Podemos and other left-wing forces.
The two blocs are deeply divided over Catalonia, with Vox, the PP and Ciudadanos all promising to crack down on the region’s pro-independence authorities, while Mr Sanchez has called for dialogue to seek common ground.
In the breakaway region, where the build-up to the election has been marked by massive and sometimes violent protests at prison sentences handed down last month to nine independence leaders, Quim Torra, the Catalan president, also made an appeal for “a massive turnout”.
“The will of the people is what decides everything,” Mr Torra said as pro-independence parties targeted the possibility of winning more than half of the 48 seats up for grabs in Catalonia.
Ines Arrimadas, Ciudadanos’ spokeswoman in Congress and an outspoken critic of Catalonia’s independence movement, was jostled and booed amid cries of “fascist” as she went to vote in Barcelona, the Catalan capital.
Spain has struggled to put stable governments together since new parties emerged from the financial crisis, following decades during which power oscillated between the Socialists and the PP. (© Daily Telegraph, London)