Spain votes on Sunday in local and regional elections that will be a barometer for a year-end general election that surveys suggest Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will lose, heralding a return of the right.
Spaniards will elect thousands of city and regional representatives across the country, as well as members of the European Parliament. The elections will test the popularity of Sanchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE), which won the most seats in the April 28 general election but fell short of a majority and needs to form alliances to govern.
The PSOE is expected to win most votes in the local and regional polls, but it could lose power in some key regions and cities where the conservative People’s Party (PP), the far-right Vox and the centre-right Ciudadanos could join forces to oust the Socialists.
One of the most closely watched races is in Madrid, where Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a right-wing populist who has defied Covid-19 restrictions and clashed with Sanchez’s government, is seeking re-election as regional president with the support of Vox. Ayuso’s slogan “Freedom or Communism” has resonated with many voters who are weary of lockdowns and economic hardship.
Another hot spot is Barcelona, where the incumbent left-wing mayor Ada Colau faces a tough challenge from Ernest Maragall, a pro-independence candidate who narrowly beat her in 2019 but failed to form a coalition. Colau, who has been critical of both Catalan separatism and Spanish centralism, hopes to secure a second term with the backing of Sanchez’s party.
The elections come amid a tense political climate marked by polarisation, fragmentation and uncertainty. Sanchez’s minority government relies on the support of various regional parties, including Basque and Catalan nationalists, to pass legislation and budgets. The opposition accuses him of being too lenient with separatists and too soft on immigration and crime.
The elections will also reflect the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 80,000 people in Spain and plunged the country into its worst recession since the civil war. The government has been praised for its swift vaccination campaign, which has reached more than 40% of the population, but also criticised for its handling of the health crisis and its economic and social consequences.