The campaigns for the 28 April Spanish general election kicked off on Friday morning with several events being held by political groups on Thursday night, or to coincide with just after midnight, when candidates could officially start asking citizens for their vote.
The campaign is expected to partly revolve around the Catalan crisis – as it also did in the regional elections of Andalusia last December – and it is the first election in the Spanish parliament since the 2017 Catalan referendum and declaration of independence.
Spanish-wide parties have taken sides on the issue, with some displaying hardline stances against the pro-independence parties and government, while others calling for dialogue – with or without including self-determination in this dialogue.
In Catalonia itself, the fact that the election is happening at the same time as the trial of jailed political leaders and activists is underway, also looks certain to have an impact. In fact, two parties have included some of these incarcerated officials in their tickets.
Another issue drawing most attention in Spain will be the potential breakthrough of the far-right Vox party for the first time in a national election, as well as whether the right-wing parties, People’s Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Cs) will amass the majority of the seats. The three parties formed a pact in Andalusia after the December elections.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stated on Thursday that he would participate in just one single five-way election debate on Spanish TV, scheduled for 23 April on Antena 3 – rather than four ways (PSOE, PP, Cs and Podemos), excluding the far-right Vox.
It has been reported that the socialist leader wants to bring the heads of the right-wing parties (PP & Cs), together with the far-right Vox, in order to try and convince undecided voters that the three parties will govern Spain unless there is a strong turnout on 28 April.
Sánchez wants a new ‘photo of Colón’, referring to a mass protest against his government held in February at Madrid’s Plaza Colón, and which marked the first time that PP and Cs leaders were pictured together with members of Vox.
Other scenarios on 28 April might be an unlikely left-wing majority primarily between the current governing socialists (PSOE) together with the Podemos party, or a more likely hung parliament with the Catalan and Basque parties having the key to decide whether to keep Socialist Pedro Sánchez in power, or contributing to a deadlock.
Another issue that looks set to become an explosive theme in the election campaigns is Spain’s so-called ‘political police‘ – where previous right-wing governments in Spain allegedly ‘dug up dirt’ and fabricated evidence to harm rivals.
The existence of these secret operations came to light in 2016 when a leaked conversation appeared to show Spain’s interior minister at the time, Jorge Fernandez Diaz, discussing ways to incriminate Catalan pro-independence politicians.
New revelations have recently emerged in the Spanish media that the ‘political police’ also targeted the left-wing Podemos party, whilst the PP was in power – and in particular the Podemos party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias.
Fernandez Diaz, who was interior minister from 2011 to 2016, has always denied any such operations took place.
However, Prime Minister Sánchez also said on Spanish TV La Sexta this week that there were ‘corrupt police’ used to ‘obstruct judicial cases’ and also ‘spy on various political rivals’ under the previous government.
A number of former senior Spanish police officers are suspected of having fabricated fake evidence to discredit Podemos when the party was growing during 2015 and 2016.
Information leaked to media sources alleged Podemos was originally financed with money from Iran and Venezuela, where party general secretary Pablo Iglesias and several other colleagues had once advised the government of late leader Hugo Chavez.
The allegations were brought to court, which never found any evidence to support them and shelved them.