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Explainer: Why Spain's Election is So Open

FILE - Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delivers a statement at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, Feb. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
FILE - Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez delivers a statement at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, Feb. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Explainer: Why Spain's election Is So Open
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Spain will hold national elections on Sunday. It will be the country’s third such election in four years.

The Reuters news agency says the results of the vote are likely too close to call. At least five political parties have a chance to be in the next government.

The general elections are set to mark a few firsts in Spanish politics. It appears clear that the elections will lead to a coalition government. Since it returned to democracy in the 1970s, Spain has yet to be ruled by a coalition.

Also, opinion studies are showing that far-right politicians could be elected in the country for the first time since 1982.

Reuters predicts there will be long coalition negotiations after the voting ends Sunday night. Results are expected within a few hours.

Here is what is important to know:

Who will win?

No party will win enough seats to form a government on its own. Opinion surveys appear to show that the parliament will be fragmented.

One such poll was released on Monday just before the two debates between the leaders of four of the five main parties. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist party was found to be in the lead. He will most likely win just under 30 percent of votes. That information comes from a poll published in the newspaper El Pais. The Socialists would have the best chance of leading the coalition, if it could find allies. That might be difficult.

If a coalition government fails to take shape, there could be another election. In other words, it could be many months before a new prime minister is chosen.

Why is this so complex?

The most recent polls put the number of undecided Spanish voters as high as 40 percent of the population.

No one seems to know how many votes the new far-right party Vox will receive, but it seems clear the party will win seats. Far-right lawmakers have been largely missing from Spain’s political life for nearly 40 years. The leader of Vox was barred from the two election debates for legal reasons.

Some political observers say the candidate who performed best at the debates was Pablo Iglesias. He is the leader of the anti-austerity party Podemos. But opinion polls show his party has lost a lot of support in recent weeks.

The 350 deputies in Spain’s lower house of parliament are elected from 52 constituencies, whose sizes and economies are very different. Also, predicting who might win is difficult because of the large number of candidates.

Spanish parties are not familiar with coalition-building. And they have little reason to negotiate as they face local elections on May 26. Making compromises in the hope of forming a government may anger local voters.

Also, some of the parties are either having power struggles or have recently had them. There are new political leaders who might make changes or create unusual alliances.

Spaniards will also elect 208 representatives to the Senate. The Senate is less openly political and has been under the control of conservative lawmakers since 2011.

Who will be the Prime Minister?

If the Socialist party wins many seats, Sanchez could remain Prime Minister by forming a coalition with the Podemos party.

But recent polls show that the Socialist party will not do that well. Even if the party joins with Podemos, the coalition would need another ally. That ally would most likely come from one of the small, nationalist parties, perhaps one from Catalonia. The Socialists and Podemos would be forced to make compromises with that party. In the case of the Catalonian party, that might mean talking to Catalan secessionists.

The latest polls also say that the three rightist parties combined probably would not win a parliamentary majority.

The Socialists could form a coalition with the Ciudadanos, but the party’s leader, Albert Rivera, has said he would never join with the Socialists. Sanchez also said he had no plans to work with Rivera.

While the leader in all the polls, Sanchez wants to stay in power, but his coalition choices all have problems.

Only one thing is sure: Spain’s two-party system is dead.

What are the main issues for voters?

The general election campaign has dealt largely with two issues: identity and values. The economy is a distant third issue.

Catalonia’s campaign for independence has become one of the most important issues. Currently, 12 former leaders of the Catalan Independence movement are on trial.

Ciudadanos, Vox and Spain’s People’s Party are competing for the anti-separatist vote. The Socialists will also try to get the anti-separatist vote, but they may have to negotiate with the Catalans for a coalition. In years past, the Socialists have refused to give in to Catalan demands.

All the main parties have traded accusations of corruption. The economy has been a minor issue, since it is growing at a yearly rate of about 2 percent.

Why should we care?

Over the past three years, Spain has had a number of minority or caretaker governments, so decisions on tax reform and other economic issues have been delayed.

And that may endanger Spain’s greatest strength: its growing economy.

I'm Dorothy Gundy and I’m Susan Shand.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

austerityadj. things done to save money

concession – n. giving in to someone’s demands

secessionist –n. one who believes in secession, or pulling out of a union to be independent

mausoleum – n. a tomb at a grave