Spain PM hopes to emerge stronger from local, regional, EU polls

Madrid (AFP) –


Favourite in the polls, Spain's ruling Socialists were hoping to emerge stronger from local, regional and European elections on Sunday seen as a "second round" of an April general poll.

According to two surveys published after polling stations closed -- one of them conducted from Wednesday to Friday and the other Sunday -- the Socialists are expected to come top in the European elections with 28-30 percent of votes, gaining four seats.

That would be 11 points more than the conservative Popular Party (PP) in second place.

Newly-emerged far-right party Vox, meanwhile, would get at least four seats with between 6.5 and 8.2 percent of the votes, according to the polls.

That would be less than the 10 percent it won in the general election on April 28 when it burst into the national parliament.

That election saw acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialist Party (PSOE) come first but fall short of a majority.

Sanchez is hoping the party will perform well on Sunday so he can opt for his preferred plan of forming a minority government with the support of other parties on a case-by-case basis when passing laws.

But he will also be looking to the European Union, where Sanchez has emerged as the big hope for European social democrats.

Turnout at 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) stood at more than 49 percent, or 15 points more than at the same time during the last EU elections in 2014.

The fact that the polls coincide with local and regional elections has probably boosted turnout.

Spain could be the only major EU member state with socialists coming out on top in the European parliament elections.

On Friday, outgoing Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, whom Spain could push to become the next EU foreign policy chief, told supporters that Sanchez was going to "lead the resurgence of social democracy in Europe".

Separately, Catalonia's former separatist president Carles Puigdemont, who fled Spain in 2017 after a failed secession bid, and his ex-deputy Oriol Junqueras, currently in jail, are likely to be elected to the European Parliament.

- Podemos or not? -

On the domestic front, the results of local and regional elections may determine what Spain's new government looks like, and Sanchez has urged supporters to "finish the work" of the general election and turn out in force.

While Sanchez wants to rule alone in a minority government, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of far-left party Podemos, is pushing him to form a coalition.

Whether Sanchez accepts may depend on how both parties fare.

The Socialists "might need the support of Podemos to retain power in some regions, which Iglesias might use to pressure Sanchez into forming a coalition," said Teneo analyst Antonio Barroso.

But "Iglesias' party is on the decline according to the most recent polls, and PSOE might enjoy a certain 'honeymoon effect' after its victory in the April legislative election.

"If the distance between the two parties widens after Sunday, Sanchez will be in an even stronger position to head a minority government."

Polls suggest the Socialists will win in most of the 12 regions going to the polls on Sunday.

But all eyes will be on the region of Madrid, which could swing left after being governed by the PP for 24 years.

An exit poll by local television channel Telemadrid predicted that would be the case, with Socialist candidate Angel Gabilondo coming first.

It also predicted that outgoing Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena would win again.