Spain: Socialists take lead in election while far-right Vox surges

Spain: Socialists take lead in election while far-right Vox surges

Spain voted yesterday in its fourth general election in as many years amid heightened tensions over Catalonia's separatist push, an issue that has fuelled a surge in support for the upstart far-right party Vox.

But the most striking development could be the rise of the far-right Vox party, which might even jump to third-largest in Parliament, according to recent polling.

Spain's United We Can party leader Pablo Iglesias said he will offer assistance to the Socialists, led by interim Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, to form a stable leftist government.

The Socialists' April victory was nonetheless seen by many as something of a respite for Europe where right-wing parties had gained much ground in countries such as France, Hungary, Italy and Poland.

The turnout in this Sunday's Spanish general election was 56,8% at 6 p.m. (1700 GMT), nearly four points below that recorded in the previous elections on 28 April, when it was 60,7%.

The Interior Ministry put voter turnout at 69.91%, - down from the record 71.76% during the general election in April.

He said: "We will reach out to the Socialist Party [PSOE]".

Voting stations opened at 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) and are set to close at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT), with results expected within hours.

The Supreme Court last month handed down prison sentences to former leaders of the province for holding an independence referendum in 2017.

"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.

But Vox, headed by Santiago Abascal, appears to have capitalized on Spanish nationalist sentiment stirred up by the Catalan conflict.

The crowd responded by chanting "Torra to the dungeon".

In the previous general election, the 75.79% of the total electoral census went to vote, one of the highest turnout since democracy was restored in Spain four decades ago.

Meanwhile, Vox, which secured its first parliamentary seats in the previous election, could see its seats almost double from 24 to 46. The country used to take pride in claiming that no far-right group had seats in the national parliament, unlike the rest of Europe.

In recent days, Mr Sanchez has repeatedly raised the alarm about Vox's "aggressive ultra-rightwing" policies, warning the party would drag the country back to the dark days of Franco's dictatorship.

"I thought of not voting. but then I would be upset if the right won with the far-right", said Mari Carmen Lopez, a 25-year-old physical therapist, after casting her vote for far-left Podemos in Barcelona. Neither the left nor the right looked likely to win a ruling majority in Spain's 350-seat Parliament.

Spain has been caught in political paralysis since the election of December 2015 when Podemos and business-friendly Ciudadanos entered parliament.

But there is a risk Sunday's vote will only prolong the agony. Sunday's election was called after the two parties failed to agree following the last election in April. "But these changes will not make it easier to form a government", he added.

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