Spain is preparing for weeks of fraught coalition negotiations as polls suggest Sunday’s election is highly unlikely to deliver a clear winner.
Amid a surge in support for the hard-Right, the country is facing its most fragmented political period since democracy was ushered in after General Franco.
Vox, a start-up which has burst onto the scene carving up support among the traditional conservative parties, is expected to win their first seats – and the first representation at a national level for the hard-Right in Spain since the fascist era.
But they are unlikely to prevent the governing Socialist Party (PSOE) from being the biggest party, with support for the Left hardening in the face of Vox’s brash nationalism.
Party leaders used their final stump speeches on Friday to warn of the potential for stalemate for a country that has been through its third general election in four years.
Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist prime minister, urged PSOE voters to turn up en masse. “Winning does not mean governing,” he said in Valencia. He warned of the possibility of the “extreme-Right being at the controls”, in reference to Vox.
Mr Sánchez has regularly been accused of being a “danger” to the unity of Spain and an “enemy of the nation” by Right-wing opponents due to his reliance on Catalan pro-independence parties during his 10-month minority government.
Fearing an exodus of voters, the conservative Popular Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado reached out to those tempted to jump on the Vox bandwagon. “We’ve already changed; we’ve already mended our ways,” Mr Casado, who has moved the PP to the Right, told supporters in Madrid.
“Why step on each other’s hoses when the key is to reach a majority?”
The only way the PP can return to power is via a three-way coalition with the liberal Ciudadanos and Vox. Mr Sánchez’s best chance of holding on to power is by striking a deal with Left-wing ally Podemos and Basque nationalists.
But neither of these hypothetical blocs are guaranteed to win even a slender majority.
“There is an evident risk that a clear majority will not emerge from this election,” says Pablo Simón, a political analyst from Madrid’s Carlos III University.
Mr Simón argues that a strong result for Vox could complicate a repeat of the three-way Right coalition that took power in Andalucia last December.
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“Parties with more extreme policies tend to have a greater shy vote. Vox focuses on symbolic cultural issues and its conservative social agenda, and any government could become a prisoner of those demands.”
As well as the emergence of Vox, the obscure anti-bullfighting animal rights party Pacma is predicted to win its first-ever seats.
And as the defence of Spain’s cultural symbols has come to the fore, the PP has put up two bullfighters and the widow of a matador killed in the ring as candidates.
Vox has recruited four retired military generals, including two who signed a manifesto against the Socialist government’s plan to exhume the remains of the dictator Franco from his colossal mausoleum outside Madrid.
Several Catalan politicians in custody while on trial for rebellion are also running, with the campaign including televised press conferences from prison by Catalonia’s former vice-president, Oriol Junqueras, and by Jordi Sànchez, candidate for the JxCAT party of self-exiled former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont.
Post-election negotiations will inevitably be made even more complex by regional and local elections in May, leading to a potential spider’s web of multiple coalition deals being thrashed out across Spain.
Not that many Spaniards may care. During the almost year-long political paralysis of 2016 the economy continued to improve and unemployment fell by two percentage points.