Spain turned out wearily to vote in its fourth general election in as many years on Sunday as polls suggested that nearly a third of voters stayed home, with no obvious end in sight to the country’s political crisis.
Official figures from Spain’s interior ministry showed that just under 57 per cent of people had cast their votes, 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 acting Prime Minister win 29 per cent of the popular vote, but he was unable to gain majority parliamentary support.
Talks with the Left-wing party Podemos party broke down and all the groups from the centre and Right of the spectrum vetoed Mr Sánchez for his past willingness to negotiate with parties pursuing independence for the region of Catalonia.
Mr Sánchez’s final campaign message before Spain’s fourth election since December 2015 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 place at around 14 per cent before yesterday’s ballot.
The leader of Spain’s main conservative opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, also said he hoped for a healthy turnout that would help to “unblock” the political impasse in Spain.
All 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.
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The two blocs are deeply divided over Catalonia, with Vox, the PP and Ciudadanos all promising a harsh crackdown on the region’s pro-independence authorities, while Mr Sánchez 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, Catalan President Quim Torra also made an appeal for “a massive turnout”.
“The will of the people is what decides everything,” Mr Torra said as pro-independence parties eyed the possibility of winning more than half of the 48 seats up for grabs in Catalonia.
Inés 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.