Spain’s latest call for elections — the fourth in as many years — shows how the country has been struggling to put governments together since several new parties, including Podemos, Ciudadanos and the far-right Vox, appeared on the political scene five years ago.
For decades, politics had been dominated by the conservative People's Party (PP) and the left-wing Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). But the country has been in political limbo since the PSOE emerged as the biggest party in April's parliamentary election but without enough seats to govern on their own.
Acting PSOE Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez blamed the impasse on the other major political parties: the conservative PP, the centre-right Citizens (Ciudadanos), and the far-left Unidas Podemos, while these three blamed Sanchez for failing to strike a deal with any of them.
Opinion polls show the Socialists may win more seats in the new election but will still be unable to secure a majority.
However, two noteworthy events might shake up things for Spain: the sentencing of the Catalan independentist politicians and the weariness of the Spanish electorate.
Who will take the brunt of the Catalan independentists sentencing?
Spain’s supreme court sentencing of the Catalan political independentist leaders who proclaimed Catalonia’s independence two years ago will become known in the first ten days of October, Javier Zaragoza, one of the four prosecutors in the court case, has confirmed.
Political scientist Cristina Monge said the sentencing could have different consequences in Catalonia and in Spain. In Catalonia, a harsh verdict could harm parties less inclined to dialogue with the Catalan independentists — the PP and Ciudadanos, she said.
However, at the national level, the effect could be the opposite, and the most prejudiced party could be Podemos who are the most inclined to a dialogue with the independentists because they would be the strongest critics of a harsh sentence. But Monge believes that everything depends not so much on the sentence passed but on the subsequent reaction of parties.
“The sentence and the election will be a month apart, which is a lot of time,” said Monge, who believes the Catalan conflict can easily take a back seat in the election campaign.
Who’s going to pay for the weariness?
The latest opinion polls are showing a slight improvement in the numbers of votes for the PSOE and the PP, the traditional left and right parties. However, analysts are warning these numbers could soon change amid the national weariness for elections, which could cause a strong abstention rate.
A poll by the Spanish public research institute, CIS, showed politics induce negative feelings among the Spanish: 34.2% of citizens said they are wary of politics, 15.8% are bored, and 13.3% are indifferent.
Some politicians acknowledged on Wednesday that voters had run out of patience.
"I think people are up to here with all of us. They are fed up," Catalan lawmaker Gabriel Rufian told parliament.
Monge said that left-wing voters are probably the ones feeling the most betrayed because they might think their April vote to stop a right-wing coalition was not useful enough.
Is there a lack of negotiating culture within Spanish politicians?
It's not the first time in the last years that Spain has found itself in a political impasse. In October 2016, 68 PSOE MPs abstained on a confidence vote to break a ten-months deadlock and allow the conservative Mariano Rajoy to become prime minister.
The current crisis is due to the appearance over the past couple of years of three new political parties, which have made the parliamentarian equation more complicated.
Some politicians have called for constitutional reform to break the stalemate in parliament. Acting deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo told the Cadena Ser news outlet late on Tuesday that it would be "reasonable" to adapt electoral rules to the new political landscape.
How much does it cost to organise elections in Spain?
Organising elections in Spain usually cost around €180 million. Despite shortening the election campaign from two to one week and reducing party subsidies by 30%, it is estimated that the autumn elections will cost some €175 million: €140 million from the election budget, €32 million from subsidies and three and a half million from deputies' settlements. Last April elections cost €180 million.