Spain faces divisive election amid far-right surge and heat wave

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Spain is holding a general election on Sunday that could see the far-right enter the national government for the first time since the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975.

The election comes amid a severe heat wave that has affected much of the country, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in some areas. The extreme weather has raised concerns about voter turnout and public health.

The main contenders in the election are the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), led by incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, and the center-right People’s Party (PP), led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo. Neither party is expected to win an absolute majority in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies, so they will likely need to form coalitions with smaller parties to govern.

The most likely coalition partner for the PP is Vox, a nationalist and anti-immigration party that has surged in popularity in recent years. Vox, headed by Santiago Abascal, advocates for a hard line against Catalan and Basque separatism, a rollback of LGBTQ and women’s rights, and a tougher stance on migration and Islam. Vox could become the kingmaker of the next government, as it has already done in some regional and local administrations.

The PSOE, which has been in power since 2018, faces a challenge from a new left-wing coalition called Sumar, which brings together 15 small parties for the first time. Sumar, led by Yolanda Díaz, is a successor of Unidas Podemos, the former coalition partner of the PSOE that split over policy differences. Sumar advocates for a more progressive agenda on social and environmental issues, as well as dialogue with the pro-independence forces in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

The election is seen as a referendum on Sánchez’s performance as prime minister, especially his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that followed. Sánchez has also faced criticism for his controversial pardons of nine Catalan separatist leaders who were jailed for their role in the 2017 independence bid. Sánchez has defended his decision as a gesture of reconciliation and dialogue, but his opponents have accused him of betraying the unity and constitution of Spain.

The election is also influenced by the regional and international context, such as the relations with neighboring countries like France, Morocco and Gibraltar, the role of Spain in the European Union and NATO, and the impact of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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