ANALYSIS: If the Spanish election springs a surprise it will be the far-right Vox party

What will be the surprise of the Spanish election on Sunday? Almost certainly the performance of the hard-right Vox party, writes Matthew Bennett.

ANALYSIS: If the Spanish election springs a surprise it will be the far-right Vox party
Photo: AFP
Spanish newspapers made their final bets on the last day of this general election campaign today. ABC ran an interview with Pablo Casado: the “responsible, patriotic” thing to do is to vote for the PP and get rid of Sánchez. El Mundo ran an interview with Albert Rivera, in which the Ciudadanos leader proposed a 10-year plan for fixing Catalonia, along with an immediate move to suspend home rule in the region.
El País ran an interview with Pedro Sánchez, in which the Prime Minister warned about the “real risk” that the “far-right”, Vox, would make it in to government via a right-wing coalition. The paper covered its home page with two other warnings about Vox and big bright red ads reading “vote PSOE”. La Razón's front page was a basic message: Sánchez bad, Casado good.
The two election debates on TV were, after all the fuss, little more than overlapping recitals of four parties' election manifestos, with a few digs at opposing parties, some props and graphs (Mr. Rivera probably won that little game) and lots of talking loudly over the top of each other.
So much did they talk loudly over each other that one of the presenters in the Antena 3 debate, Ana Pastor, reminded the candidates several times that viewers at home could not even hear what they were saying when they did that. To no avail. They kept going. The noise from each cancelled out the noise from the other three.
No depth at all was to be found in either of the debates, on any issue, which were standard blocks of topics like healthcare or pensions or “territorial policy”, a broad euphemism for the Catalan mess, which they also skimmed over.
No Trump, no coming global economic crisis, no fourth industrial revolution or the effect of robots on jobs, no climate change, no artificial intelligence, no science, no culture.
Nor was any personal depth uncovered in any of the candidates. No pressing moral questions without easy answers were asked.
The man creating all the election buzz this year, Vox leader Santiago Abascal, was absent from both debates, but the party was present in the subtext of the comments of all of the last-minute front pages and big interviews.
Casado needs people to vote for the PP because a huge chunk of his electorate has gone to Vox. Rivera is talking up Catalonia because the toughest line on that issue has been proposed by Vox. And Sánchez is warning on Vox because of, well, Vox.
In the PSOE's case, it helps the socialists while hurting Casado and Rivera on the right.
Abascal tweeted a photo of four parrots during the first debate and tried to counter-schedule the second with a speech at a rally near Madrid. Vox appears to have won the social media game this year, with by far the most YouTube views and Google searches, although El País reported the party had been using Twitter bots.
Vox has also won the “videos of long excited queues outside rallies” game.
The final polls (published last Monday) were flat, with no relevant shifts since the middle of March. There are indications the polls from different companies might be “herding”, or grouping together in a manner that suggests they might all have missed something important. That obvious “something important” in Spain this year is Vox.
Nobody, then, has a clue what will really happen on Sunday but all the signs suggest the big election surprise this year, if there is one, will be Vox. The only question is: how many MPs will Abascal have by Monday morning?

Matthew Bennett is the creator of The Spain Report. You can read more of his writing on Patreon, and follow him on Twitter. Don't miss his podcast series with weekly in-depth analysis on Spain.

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Will Spain have a sixth coronavirus wave?

While Covid infections are rising across Europe, Spain has managed to keep cases and hospitalisations low so far this autumn. But there are already signs things may be changing. 

people walk without masks on ramblas barcelona during covid times
Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave but will there be a sixth wave? Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

Coronavirus cases have been rising quickly across Europe since October but not so in Spain, which has maintained one of the lowest infection, hospitalisation and death rates on the continent. 

According to prestigious medical publication The Lancet, Spain could well be on the verge of reaching herd immunity, a statement the country’s Health Minister tends to agree with.  

READ ALSO: Has Spain almost reached herd immunity?

Add the favourable epidemiological indicators to the almost 80 percent rate of full vaccination of Spain’s entire population and the immunity claim doesn’t seem so far-fetched. 

But if there’s one thing this pandemic has taught governments around the world – or should have – is to not assume Covid-19 can be eradicated after a few encouraging weeks. 

Not that Spain is letting down its guard, the general public continues to take mask wearing in indoor spaces seriously (outdoors as well even though not required in many situations) and there are still some regional restrictions in place. 

READ MORE: What Covid-19 restrictions are in place in Spain’s regions in November?

And yet, Covid infections are on the rise again, although not at the pace seen during previous waves of the virus. 

On Thursday November 4th Spain re-entered the Health Ministry’s “medium risk” category after the national fortnightly infection rate surpassed 50 cases per 100,000 people.

From Friday 5th to Monday 8th, it climbed five more points up to 58 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. 

It’s the biggest rise since last July but this shouldn’t be cause for alarm, especially as hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths all remain low and steady.

A closer look at the stats shows that 1.52 percent of hospital beds across the country are currently occupied by Covid patients, 4.41 percent in the case of ICU beds. 

Daily Covid deaths in October were under 20 a day, the lowest rate since August 2020. 

With all this in mind, is a sixth wave of the coronavirus in Spain at all likely?

According to a study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Spain will have a sixth wave.

The Seattle-based research group predicts an increase in infections in Spain from the second half of November, which will skyrocket in December reaching the highest peak towards the end of the year. 

The country would reportedly need about 24,000 beds for Covid patients (4,550 for critical ones) and there would be almost 2,000 deaths. 

Increased social interactions would mean that on December 30th alone, daily Covid infections in Spain could reach 92,000, the study claims. 

If restrictions were tightened ahead of the holiday period, including the use of face masks, the sixth wave’s peak wouldn’t be as great, IHME states

It’s worth noting that the IHME wrongly predicted that Spain wouldn’t be affected by a fifth wave whereas it ended up causing more than a million infections and 5,000 deaths. 

two elderly women in san sebastian during covid times
The vaccination rate among over 70s in Spain is almost 100 percent. Photo: Ander Guillenea/AFP

The latest message from Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias is that currently “the virus is cornered” in the country, whilst admitting that there was a slight rise in cases. 

“I do not know if there will be a sixth wave, but first we must remember that immunisation is not complete in all patients despite vaccinations,” Dr. José Polo , president of the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen), told El Periódico de España

“That’s because 100 percent effectiveness doesn’t exist in any drug, or in any medicine”.

Despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, Spain still has around 4.2 million eligible people who haven’t been vaccinated, mostly people aged 20 to 40. 

The majority of Covid hospitalisations across Spain are patients who have not been vaccinated: 90 percent in the Basque Country, 70 percent in Catalonia and 60 percent in Andalusia.

Among Covid ICU patients, 90 percent of people in critical condition across all regions are unvaccinated. 

“Although there are many people vaccinated in Spain, there will be an increase in cases because we know how the virus is transmitted and when the cold comes and the evenings are darker we will tend to go indoors, and the virus spreads there,” Cesar Carballo, Vice President of the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine of Madrid, told La Sexta news.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has already warned that Europe is at a  “critical point of regrowth”  and that it has once again become the “epicentre”  of the pandemic, due to the generalised spike in cases in recent weeks.

Does that mean that Spain’s daily infections won’t be in the thousands again as winter nears? Or that regional governments won’t reintroduce Covid measures ahead of Christmas to prevent this from happening?

Nothing is for certain, but as things stand Spain’s epidemiological situation is the most favourable in the EU and a sixth wave seems unlikely, but not impossible.

The Spanish government continues to push ahead with its vaccination campaign, reopening its vaccination centres, administering booster shots to its most vulnerable and considering vaccinating under 12s to meet an immunity target of 90 percent.