Spain’s elections appear to have failed to break the political impasse, giving first place to the ruling Socialists on a diminished share of the vote, while the far-right Vox party has made a big advance, according to a survey released as soon as polls closed.
A tracking poll of 15,000 people for state television indicated that the Socialists would come down from 123 seats in the 350-seat Chamber of Deputies to between 114 and 119.
The survey was not an exit poll and previous such exercises have not always accurately predicted final results. Socialist officials told state television that the poll’s findings were not in line with their own data. But the trends in the survey, if confirmed, would enormously complicate the formation of a stable government after a campaign overshadowed by the crisis in Catalonia and the rise of the hard right.
The election was triggered by the failure of Pedro Sánchez, caretaker prime minister, to win parliament’s backing to form a government.
According to the poll’s results, Vox would become the third biggest force in parliament, with 56-59 seats, more than double the 24 it secured in the last elections, barely six months ago.
The main opposition People’s party would increase to 85-90 seats, from 66 — a considerably smaller rise than it had hoped — while the pro-market Ciudadanos party would collapse from 57 seats to 14-15, according to the GAD3 survey.
The number of deputies of the radical left Podemos party would fall to 30-34 seats from 40, but a smaller leftwing party, Más País, would enter Congress with three deputies.
The first official returns were due to be released from about 9pm local time. More complete results are due by around 10:30pm.
Turnout was down by about 1.5m on the last elections in April, when over 26m people voted.
As of 6pm local time on Sunday, with two more hours of voting to go, the participation rate for the election was around 56.5 per cent. That was about four percentage points below the figure recorded at the same time in the April election, when heavy turnout by the Socialist party’s base helped the party to first place.
At stake is the composition of the chamber of deputies and the 208-member Senate.
“There are 100 seats [in the chamber of deputies] that depend on very narrow margins of votes,” said Ignacio Torreblanca of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Whether parties have a few percentage points more or less — particularly around the 12 per cent level or, for the party that comes first, around 30 per cent — can have a brutal impact in the distribution of seats.”
“It’s hard to see how this election gets us out of the hole we are in,” said Pablo Simón, professor of politics at Madrid’s Carlos III university. “It could well produce a shortlived and very weak government.”
The surveys also indicate that rightwing parties have benefited from a backlash in much of Spain to pro-independence protests in Catalonia that initially sometimes veered into violence.
While Mr Sánchez has sought to champion a “firm, proportionate” response to the protests — which were sparked off by jail sentences for nine pro-independence Catalan politicians — the parties to his right have called for tougher action.
“Sánchez has made a basic error that is very hard to understand in apparently not understanding that the verdicts in the Catalan case would benefit the right,” said Mr Torreblanca.
“The big question for Vox is how many working class votes it gets,” he added, pointing out that much of the far-right group’s initial support has been among upper income groups.
Before the vote, Santiago Abascal, Vox’s leader, asked for the support of traditional leftwing voters who felt “abandoned” by the Socialists and said other parties were “in a panic” about the rise of his far-right party.