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Spanish voters warned against opening the door for the far right

More than a third of voters were still undecided days before April 28 general election

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist Party waves to supporters at a campaign rally on April 26, 2019. Bloomberg
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist Party waves to supporters at a campaign rally on April 26, 2019. Bloomberg

Top candidates on both the right and left have appealed to Spain's large pool of undecided voters to keep the far-right at bay in Sunday's general election.

In a tight race, what these voters do will shape the fortunes of the two political blocs that loosely took shape during campaigning that ended Friday. With no one party expected to win more than 50 per cent of the vote, the question becomes which of Spain's top five parties will join together afterwards to create a governing alliance.

The Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Friday he was open to a coalition with the anti-austerity Podemos (United We Can) party, hinting for the first time at a possible centre-left governing deal.

On the political right, which the conservative Popular Party used to dominate but which has splintered into three main groups, the upstart far-right Vox party is making inroads.

Ciudadanos (Citizens) party leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, insists that his centre-right party will only join a governing coalition with the conservatives. His campaign-end speech on Friday in Valencia, which also holds a regional election, focused on criticising the Socialists while vowing to "unite Spaniards, not separate them".

The Popular Party's new leader, Pablo Casado, is also determined to unseat Mr Sanchez but at the same time is trying to stop the far-right from draining votes away from his party, as pollsters are predicting.

"The only alternative to Sanchez is the Popular Party, because we are the only ones that can reach agreements and avoid a deadlock," he said, warning that Spain's economy would suffer under a centre-left alliance.

Mr Casado opened the door to some kind of post-election understanding with the anti-migrant nationalists of Vox. He said the three parties on the political right could potentially "pool" their votes, although he did not elaborate.

Spanish law bans media and parties from conducting polls during the final days of campaigning. But the latest surveys available, published on Monday, showed that a third of Spain's nearly 37 million voters still had not decided who to vote for.

With no polling allowed in the week ahead of the vote, the only certainty is that a far-right populist party is poised to sit in Spain's national parliament for the first time since the 1980s, and that an even more fractured political landscape is likely to emerge from Sunday's election.

Astrid Barrio, a politics professor at the University of Valencia, said the real fight was between the three right-wing parties. Vox has surged in support, mainly due to a rise in Spanish nationalism that is the direct result of separatist demands in the north-eastern Catalonia region.

"The left has not responded to the right's radicalisation and separatist parties have not even dared to call for an independence referendum as a condition to eventually back Sanchez," Ms Barrio said, referring to the political crisis in Catalonia that has affected all of Spain.

"The idea of curbing the rise of the far-right has had a moderating effect," she said.

Three topless activists of the Femen group climbed on to a stage on Friday in central Madrid before Vox's leader Santiago Abascal was due to speak, shouting "It's not patriotism, it's fascism!" as the crowds screamed back at them and police intervened to drag the activists away.

Similar counter-protests have been used by Vox to garner even more support through social media outreach, as the party tries to influence the political debate on issues such as abortion, migration, traditional values or territorial unity.

Vox has also furiously blasted the country's fervent women's rights movement.

Addressing thousands of supporters after the incident, Mr Abascal said Sunday's choice was "between the leftist dictatorship and the Spain that is alive" and called on voters to fill the ballot boxes with "red and yellow ballots", the colors of the Spanish flag.

Warning that the rise of Vox should not be underestimated, Mr Sanchez urged Spaniards to cast a "useful vote".

"We are facing a real risk of the right-wing and the extreme right coming together," the prime minister said, citing how the Socialist party was unseated late last year by a right-wing pact after 36 years in power in Andalusia, Spain's most populous region. A close election result could bring weeks of political hard bargaining, and Mr Sanchez said he did not want any government he leads to depend on the votes of small parties demanding regional independence, such as those in Catalonia, because they are "untrustworthy".

"Spain deserves four years of stability," he said, noting this will be the country's third parliamentary election in less than four years.

Updated: April 27, 2019 06:33 PM

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