Spain’s local elections set to put PM on the back foot

Spain votes Sunday in local and regional polls which will be a barometer for a year-end general election that surveys suggest Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will lose, heralding a return of the right.

Spain's local elections set to put PM on the back foot
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez takes part in the closing rally of Socialist Party (PSOE)'s electoral campaign in Barcelona on May 26, 2023. Photo: Pau BARRENA/AFP.

The stakes are high for Sánchez, whose Socialist party governs the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy in coalition with the far-left Podemos.

Voters are casting ballots for mayors in 8,131 municipalities while also electing leaders and assemblies in 12 of Spain’s 17 regions — 10 of which are currently run by the Socialists.

In an update at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT), five hours into voting, participation in the local elections stood at 36.54 percent, or 1.59 percentage points higher than in the 2019 polls, official figures showed. 

Some 35.5 million people are voting in the local elections while 18.3 million are eligible to cast ballots in the regional polls. 

Balloting ends at 8:00 pm, with initial results due out two hours later. 

Sánchez has been in office since 2018, and Sunday’s elections find him facing several obstacles: voter fatigue with his left-wing government, soaring inflation and falling purchasing power. 

“I do think it’s an important test (ahead of the year-end elections). It’s the only way we have of expressing our opinion about all these years they’ve been in government,” 61-year-old doctor Maria Alonso told AFPTV after voting in Madrid, without saying who earnt her vote. 

Microbiologist Irene Diaz said the local and regional polls “were as important” as the upcoming general election. 

“At the end of the day, these are elections in your city which involve laws and legislation that will end up impacting your day-to-day life,” the 30-year-old said. 

Right-wing targets ‘Sanchismo’

Sánchez expressed confidence that voters would cast their ballots responsibly.

“Most of our citizens will vote positively… for what is important: for public healthcare, public education and housing policies for our young people,” he said after voting in Madrid. 

Opposition leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo, head of the right-wing Popular Party (PP), urged people “to vote massively” and ensure the next government was a strong one.  

“We have difficult years ahead of us but… the stronger the government, the stronger our democracy will be and the faster we will get out of the economic, institutional and social problems we have in our country,” he said.

Feijóo has denounced Sanchez as not only pandering to the far left but also to the Basque and Catalan separatist parties on which his minority government has relied for parliamentary support.

He has positioned Sunday’s vote as a referendum on “Sanchismo”, a derogatory term for Sánchez’s policies.

In his campaign closing remarks, Sánchez focused on his government’s record in bolstering the economy, fighting drought and managing Spain’s increasingly sparse water resources.

“Social democratic policies suit Spain a lot better than neo-liberal policies because we manage the economy a lot better,” he said.

Of the 12 regions where new leaders will be elected, 10 are currently run by Socialists, either alone or in coalition.

The number of regions the PP manages to wrest from the Socialists will be important in determining public perceptions of whether Feijóo has won this first round — and whether his victory in the year-end general election is a foregone conclusion.

A far-right problem

But Feijóo has his own problems, in particular the far-right Vox, the third-largest party in parliament, which hopes to become an indispensable partner for the PP. Since last year, the two parties have governed together in just one region, Castilla y Leon, which was not voting on Sunday.
Aware that the key to winning the general election is conquering the centre, Feijóo has sought to moderate the PP’s line since taking over last year, while also keeping Vox at a distance. A strong regional showing by Vox would put him on the back foot.
The campaign, which ended Friday, was marred in the final week by allegations of fraud involving postal votes, largely implicating individuals allied with the Socialists. The allegations pose yet another hurdle for Sánchez, who has made good governance a priority in contrast to the corruption of various former right-wing governments.

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Deadline day: What Brits in Europe can do to make sure they vote in UK election

Tuesday, June 18th is the deadline for Brits to register to vote in the UK's general election, but there are other measures you can take to make sure your vote gets to the ballot box on time.

Deadline day: What Brits in Europe can do to make sure they vote in UK election

The deadline for registering to vote in the UK election on July 4th is 11:59pm on Tuesday June 18th.

Is it too late to register for a postal vote? 

While it is theoretically possible to register for a postal vote until 5pm on Wednesday 19th, it is far from certain that you will be able to get your postal voting pack sent out to you, vote, and send it back to the UK fast enough for your vote to have arrived by the deadline of 10pm on polling day, July 4th. 

The UK’s Royal Mail aims to deliver letters to France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, and Austria within 3 to 4 working days, and to other European countries in The Local’s network within 3-5 days. 

This means that while those who registered early should expect to receive their postal voting pack from about June 18th, those who apply on Wednesday may have to wait until June 25th or later.

READ ALSO: The key deadlines Brits in Europe need to know to vote in the UK election

Postnord in Sweden and Denmark aim to get a first class letter to the UK within 3-4 days, France’s La Poste and Germany’s Deutsche Post both take between 2-3 days, and Spain’s Correos aims to deliver to the UK in 2-4 days.

This means you might make it. But all of these services can sometimes take longer, so do you really want to trust them with something as important as your vote?

For Brits in Italy, with its notoriously slow postal service, it’s almost certainly too much of a risk. 

If you registered months ago, can you guarantee getting your postal vote back on time? 

Some councils in the UK sent out postal votes for overseas voters from June 13th, but some Brits have received emails informing them that they will be sent out much later, with one saying they will be sent from June 24th.

It’s worth ringing the electoral services team at your local council to check. 

Indeed, some local councils in the UK (among them South Norfolk and Broadland) have already been in contact with Brits warning them it’s likely to be too tight and advising them to switch to a proxy vote. 

Is it worth paying for a courier or registered delivery? 

Many postal services will offer a more expensive faster service rather than the usual “snail mail” service or there are private firms like DHL that offer quicker delivery services.

Some Brits in Europe are discussing paying for a courier or some other form of express delivery if their voter pack arrives too close to the election.

This may well be worth it as most courier services guarantee to deliver letters within a few days, or even offer same day international delivery, meaning you can skip the worry over whether your ballot will arrive on time. 

If I don’t want to take the risk, can I switch to a proxy? 

If you apply for a proxy vote online you’ve got a bit more time, but you’ll still need to submit your application by 5pm on June 26th.

So you may prefer to opt for the proxy option, in which you authorise someone else in the UK to vote for you. Your proxy can either opt to vote in-person at your polling station or they can ask for a postal vote on your behalf. 

Again, you can apply by post or online. If applying by post, your application needs to reach your local Electoral Registration Office by 5pm on June 19th.

If you have already applied for a postal vote, and want to shift to a proxy, can still make the change up until that same 5pm deadline.