June 25, 2019
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Spain's Sánchez looks to consolidate power in regional, EU elections

 Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez (C) delivers a speech during the closing rally of the Spanish Socialist Party's campaign in Madrid, Spain, May 24, 2019. EPA-EFE/JuanJo Martín

Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez (C) delivers a speech during the closing rally of the Spanish Socialist Party's campaign in Madrid, Spain, May 24, 2019. EPA-EFE/JuanJo Martín

By Rafael Cañas

Madrid, May 25 (efe-epa).- Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez seeks to consolidate his Socialist Party's (PSOE) grip on power as Spain holds municipal and regional elections just less than a month after snap general elections, from which he emerged the victor.

The PSOE is also looking to become the most influential social democrat party in the European Parliament elections which Spain is to hold on Sunday, simultaneously with the domestic elections.

Such an outcome would boost Spain's political influence in the bloc and cement Sánchez's international image as a statesman.

Spain was observing its so-called day of reflection on Saturday when political campaigning is prohibited and most party officials spend the day resting with family or friends.

This triple election in Spain comes just four weeks after general elections on Apr. 28.

PSOE secured a clear victory in the national vote, although fell short of an absolute majority while the Popular Party, the dominant force in Spanish center-right politics, collapsed to a historic low.

Some analysts in Spain think PSOE, which is on the center-left, could benefit from a honeymoon period after its success in the general elections.

But the degree of victory can depend on voter turnout. In April, Sánchez was able to rally sympathizers with warnings that parties on the right, the conservative PP, the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens, in English) and the far-right Vox, were eying up a coalition.

Now, after months of campaigning and with the buzz of the general elections ebbing away, political fatigue has started to set in.

Turnout for the regional, municipal and EU elections is set to somewhat slump but who could benefit from that remains to be seen.

Some 12 of Spain's 17 regional chambers are poised for elections and the PSOE are contending in 10 of them, although the formation of any regional government would depend largely on how potential coalition partners fair.

In this case, the PSOE may well find that the PP, C's and Vox do agree to new pacts, as they did in December last year in Andalusia, the largest and most populated region of Spain, which until that point had been the impregnable fief of the socialists.

In other regions, like the Canary Islands, Cantabria and Navarre, the PSOE must contend with popular regionalist parties.

Spaniards are set to elect mayors in 8,131 municipalities across the country. Of those municipalities, 5,002 have a population less than 1,000, so the real focus for Spain's mainstream parties will be on the 63 cities in the country with a population over 100,000.

Pollsters have tipped the PSOE to be the most voted party in most of the big cities, like Valencia, Zaragoza, Seville and Malaga, while in the capital Madrid the center-left group could form part of a left-wing local coalition.

In Barcelona, the second biggest city in the country, the PSOE may be able to tip the balance between main candidates, the pro-independence Ernest Maragall, and the current mayor, citizen activist Ada Colau.

Polling suggests that coalition rule, whether on the right or on the left, will be necessary for all regional chambers and large cities.

For this reason, Sánchez has repeatedly called on voters to finish the job started in late April and not leave the task "half finished", while his opponents warn against a tide of "sanchismo."

Spain will elect 54 of the 751 members of the European Parliament. Here, polls agree that the PSOE would win with around 29 percent of the vote and some 17 lawmakers, compared to 19 percent and 11 representatives from the PP, which would be in second place.

Given the decline of socialist or social democratic parties in countries like France or Germany, the Spanish PSOE could be the most important force in that political group in the EU, which would inevitably give Sanchez more international standing.

"This will help the Spanish government have greater weight in the politics of the EU, but also when it comes to appointing (Spaniards) to positions of power," Roberto Rodríguez, a political scientist at the Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, told Efe.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Pablo Casado could be risking his job at the helm of the PP if he does not manage to use the European parliamentary elections to improve on the party's woeful showing in the national elections last month.

The PP had been in government in Spain between 2011-2018. Casado took over in July 2018.

All three elections falling on the same day is an occurrence that happens only every 20 years and requires a huge logistical effort.

Added to this are regional peculiarities when it comes to the voting process. In the Canary Islands, for example, voters will be asked to cast ballots in five different ballot boxes.

With so many votes cast, the final tally is not expected until early Monday.EFE

rcf/jt

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