Spain registers historic number of mail votes ahead of national election

Candidates exchanged a volley of personal attacks and urged voters to go out in force on Sunday. Although polls indicate a more likely victory for the right, the end of the campaign seemed to provide a late-minute boost to the left

Spain's far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal, left-wing Sumar leader Yolanda Diaz and Prime Minister and Socialist candidate Pedro Sanchez
Spain's far-right Vox party leader Santiago Abascal, left-wing Sumar leader Yolanda Diaz and Prime Minister and Socialist candidate Pedro Sánchez attend a televised debate ahead of snap elections on July 19.VIOLETA SANTOS MOURA (REUTERS)

With two days left to go before Spaniards head to the polls for a snap election in the middle of the summer holidays, postal offices reported a record 2.4 million mail votes. José Luis Alonso Nistal, the deputy director of operations for Correos, called it “a historic milestone” for Spanish democracy.

Meanwhile, candidates exchanged one last volley of attacks on the last day of campaigning and urged their voters to go out in force on Sunday.

“We have done the best campaign of all. We fell down and we got up, we raced against the clock and we crossed all the moving goals, we climbed all the unimaginable mountain passes and we have just a few meters left for the final sprint. We are going to win the elections until the last pedal stroke, until the last breath, until the last vote and we are going to win them resoundingly!” said Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez at the closing of the campaign in Getafe (Madrid) before a euphoric crowd of 4,500 people.

Sánchez called the early election after his Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and its small far-left coalition partner, Unidas Podemos (“United We Can”), took a beating in local and regional elections in May. It is unclear whether the gamble will pay off, as polls indicate that the main opposition Popular Party (PP) will likely win the Sunday election, albeit not by a large enough margin for a clear majority. That could push the center-right party to seek the support of the far-right Vox to form a government. The trend is viewed as part of a conservative wave that has already swept through several European countries.

But the end of the campaign seemed to provide a late-minute boost to the left. It ended in what the old-school soccer chroniclers would define as “a match with two distinct parts.” In the first, the PP seemed to be headed towards an unstoppable victory after a televised debate in which its leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, was seen as defeating Sánchez. In the second part of the campaign, however, the PP has experienced a series of setbacks that have ended up boosting the morale of the Socialists.

The other left-wing force, Sumar, a new movement of 15 small left-wing parties that also seemed to be faltering at the beginning of the campaign, received a new dose of euphoria following praise for the performance of its candidate, Yolanda Díaz, in Wednesday’s three-way debate.

The campaign ended on Friday in a mood that would have been unthinkable a week ago, with the left dreaming of a comeback against a right wing that the vast majority of public opinion -about 60%, according to the latest polls- already considered the winner.

Feijóo’s friendships

Alberto Nuñez Feijóo of the PP at a campaign rally in  A Coruña.
Alberto Nuñez Feijóo of the PP at a campaign rally in A Coruña. ÓSCAR CORRAL

Feijóo, the PP candidate and a veteran conservative politician, seemed euphoric about his chances of becoming the next prime minister. At a campaign rally in A Coruña, it seemed that his only fear was that the left will snatch away his chance at governing by cobbling together an alternative majority with left-wing and regional parties.

Feijóo also lashed back over the airing of his 1990s relationship with an individual named Marcial Dorado who, while providing services to the regional government of Galicia when Feijóo was No. 2 in its health department, was also running a notorious cigarette smuggling ring. It later transpired that he was a drug trafficker as well: in 2003 Dorado was arrested for his involvement in cocaine smuggling. Tried in Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

“When I met him, he had been a smuggler, never a drug trafficker,” said the PP candidate, criticizing that his opponents had aired a 30-year-old photograph of the two together. Núñez Feijóo said that there are existing photographs of Sánchez and of Yolanda Díaz, the labor minister and head of Sumar, “with dictators, narc bosses and people who were not allowed into the EU.”

A spokesperson for Sumar said on Friday that the political right “is getting nervous and losing its manners,” after a conservative foundation named FAES, headed by former prime minister José María Aznar, described Yolanda Díaz as “a neo-communist figurehead hastily put together with scraps of Dior and mediocre self-help literature.”

“The PP does not engage in political opposition. That’s why they talk about Sanchismo. That is not a national project,” said Sánchez on Friday, alluding to the fact that for most of the past year, the PP has pursued a hard-hitting media and parliamentary campaign on the need to defeat what it calls “Sanchismo,” portraying the prime minister as a liar.

Vox, the kingmaker?

Feijóo has an unpleasant dilemma ahead of him if he wins the election — to form a coalition with far-right party Vox if he doesn’t obtain an absolute majority, something that the polls almost rule out. It would be the first time that the far right gets into Spain’s government since the end of Franco’s dictatorship. Feijóo has already admitted subtly that if he needs it, he will do it, as he blessed the entry of Vox into several regional governments after the municipal and regional elections last May.

Vox has campaigned hard on axing gender violence laws and rolling back regional government powers, positions that could bring it in conflict with Feijóo, especially given his background as a speaker of Galicia’s local dialect and Spain’s decentralized state. Compared with Vox’s candidate, Santiago Abascal, and even the Popular Party’s younger generation, Feijóo is a throwback conservative, more interested in balancing budgets than culture wars with Spain’s left.

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