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ELECTION

Spain’s General Election: What you need to know ahead of the vote

Spain will hold another general election on Sunday, its fourth in four years. But how did we get here? What are the key issues? What's at stake? And who's tipped to win?

Spain's General Election: What you need to know ahead of the vote
Nuns voting in the last general election in Spain. Photos: AFP

Here's everything you need to know ahead of the vote on Sunday.

How did we get here?


Spain will vote for the 350-seat national parliament as well as the Senate. Photo: AFP

Spain is currently suffering chronic political instability and a stalemate that has left the country without an effective government since the Socialists failed to pass the budget back in February.

End of two-party politics


Leaders of the five largest political parties line up ahead of the televised debate on Monday. Photo: AFP

Since the early 1980s, power in Spain had alternated between the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party (PP).   

But the general election in December 2015 put an end to that when two new parties, centre-right Ciudadanos and far-left Podemos, entered parliament for the first time.

The fracturing of the left and right meant that no one party has since been able to win an absolute majority in Spain's 350-seat parliament.

Fresh elections were held in June 2016 and by the end of October Mariano Rajoy was finally sworn in for a second term as prime minister thanks to support from Ciudadanos and abstentions by the PSOE, ending a 10-month spell without a government.   

But in June 2018, Pedro Sanchez became prime minister after ousting Rajoy in a no-confidence motion in parliament, in the wake of a ruling that found the PP guilty of benefiting from illegal funds in a massive graft trial.

READ MORE: 


Pedro Sanchez during a PSOE campaign rally this week. Photo: AFP 

Sanchez won the subsequent vote with the support of a hodgepodge of different formations, including Podemos, two Catalan separatist parties and a Basque nationalist party.

Sanchez's minority government submitted a left-leaning budget with Podemos which boosted social spending, in the hopes of governing until the end of the current legislature in mid-2020.   

But talks with Catalan separatist parties, whose demand for a legally binding independence referendum is unacceptable to Sanchez, broke down.    

Without their much-needed votes, the budget was rejected in parliament on February 13th and Sanchez later called early elections for April 28th.

Sanchez won the vote but with only 123 deputies out of 350, he was forced to form alliances to govern.   

However, his negotiations with Podemos, the Socialist party's bitter rival, collapsed after four months and the PP and Ciudadanos refused to help him to form a minority government by abstaining in a confidence vote, prompting fresh elections called for November 9th.

The fragmentation has continued with now three parties on the right: the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox, and three parties on the left: the Socialists (PSOE), Podemos and upstart Mas Pais, which was launched in September by former top Podemos member Inigo Errejon.

Key issues

The election comes following weeks of rising tensions in Catalonia and in the wake of the nation watching the long-awaited and debated exhumation of Franco's remains.

Catalonia and the rise of the far right


Huge demonstrations were held in the wake of the sentencing of Catalan separatist leaders. Photo: AFP

After years of peaceful mass demonstrations, Catalonia's separatist movement took a violent turn on October 14th when Spain's Supreme Court sentenced nine of its leaders to heavy prison terms of up to 13 years over the failed independence bid of 2017.

The ruling triggered days of mass protests in Barcelona and other Catalan cities, which by night descended into chaos, with demonstrators torching barricades and hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at police.   

The issue has become the central theme of the campaign with the right pressuring Sanchez to suspend Catalonia's regional autonomy or remove Catalonia's regional president from office.

While Sanchez has resisted taking these measures, he has hardened his tone towards the separatists.

Polls show the Catalan crisis has given a big boost to Vox, which made its parliamentary debut after winning 24 seats in the April election, becoming the first sizeable far-right party to enter the 350-seat assembly since Spain's return to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.   


Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox party during a campaign rally. Photo: AFP

The party wants all separatist parties and associations banned and for Catalonia's regional autonomy to be suspended until the separatist movement is “unequivocally defeated”.

Franco exhumation


The remains of the late dictator were dug and moved to a more discreet place. Photo: AFP

Since coming to power in June 2018, Sanchez had prioritized efforts to move Franco's remains from an opulent mausoleum where he was buried in 1975 to a more discreet family grave.   

Accused by his rivals of electioneering, the Socialists argue the operation, which took place on October 24th following a lengthy legal battle with Franco's family, strengthened Spain's democratic credentials.   

Many analysts believe the Socialists are seeking to mobilize leftist voters with the exhumation, but Fernando Vallespin, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Madrid, said the move would “not have the effect that the government, optimistically, thought it would”.

What do the polls say?

The PSOE is ahead in the polls and tipped to be the largest party in the 350-seat chamber, but it will almost certainly fall short of a majority and could even lose a few of the 123 seats it won last time.

The PP is predicted to improve its position from the last vote in April when it suffered its worst result in history. 

Ciudadanos, which was the third party in the last election winning 57 seats, looks likely to be the big loser, with a poll in El Pais predicting it could garner just 14 seats.

Unidas Podemos is expected to dip too, possibly losing a third of the 42 seats it won at the last election.

The far-right Vox, led by Santiago Abascal is set to surge ahead, possibly even doubling the 24 seats it won in April to becoming the third biggest party in congress. 

More protests


Masked protesters on the streets of Barcelona. Photo: AFP

Authorities have boosted police presence in Catalonia ahead of election day on Sunday as Catalan separatists vowed to take to the streets on Saturday, the legally designated “day of reflection” that precedes election day.

Democratic Tsunami – already under investigation by the Spanish courts for its alleged role in the street disturbances – has urged sympathizers to participate in activities aimed at “disobeying the Electoral Board”. These include a demonstration in downtown Barcelona at 4pm on Saturday.

What next?

Polls suggest neither the left nor the right bloc will win enough seats for a majority.

Even by joining forces, neither the left – the Socialists, Podemos and newcomer Mas Pais – nor the right – PP, Ciudadanos and Vox – are expected to win enough seats to secure a majority, polls predict.   

Last time, the Socialists and Podemos spent months locked in talks but were unable to bridge their differences, sparking bitter recriminations that would be tough to overcome.

To be sworn in as premier, Sanchez would need the support of 176 lawmakers, a good 50 more than his Socialists are predicted to win in Sunday's ballot.   

That would leave only one other apparent option: for the PP to abstain in any investiture vote, allowing Sanchez to form a minority government with outside support from Podemos.

The fear of yet more elections will “force the parties at the last minute to negotiate an abstention”, said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.   

But Teneo analyst Antonio Barroso said such a minority government “would never complete its (four-year) term”.

“And with such instability, no reforms could be undertaken that would prepare us for the next recession,” he warned, referring to the slowdown of Spain's economy and its recent negative employment figures.

A grand coalition between the Socialists and the Conservatives could surpass the 176 seats needed for an overall majority, but Sanchez has categorically ruled out any such scenario.   

When do the results come in? 

Exit polls are published at 8pm on election night, as soon as polling stations close.

The real results are published online as the count progresses and come through quickly, with a definitive result usually by about 10pm. The Local will have all the results as they come in, so check in and find out the latest

But if you want to know who will be governing in Spain, we predict that it will be a bit of wait to find out. 

ANALYSIS: How the upcoming elections in Spain and UK might affect the Spanish housing market

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ENERGY

Air-con, ties and lights: How Europe plans to save energy and get through winter without blackouts

In the face of possible energy shortages due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, countries around Europe are taking action to cut their energy use and ensure that the lights remain on this winter. Here's a look at some of the rules and recommendations that governments are introducing.

Air-con, ties and lights: How Europe plans to save energy and get through winter without blackouts

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ensuing sanctions has seen energy prices soar, while the Russian leader is also threatening to cut off gas supplies to the west in retaliation for the sanctions.

All this means that countries around Europe face a difficult winter and the prospect of energy shortages – so many are already taking action to stockpile gas and cut energy usage.

Here’s a roundup of what actions are being taken. 

Germany

Heavily dependant on Russian gas, Germany is already feeling the effects of the energy squeeze, with many households and businesses turning down the thermostat or dimming the lights as gas storage facilities are being filled at a slower pace.

RulesEarly in July, Germany’s lower house of parliament or Bundestag passed a plan to turn off the hot water in its offices and keep the air temperature no higher than 20C in the winter. This limit is merely recommended for households.

However homeowners will not be allowed to heat private pools with gas “this winter”, according to government plans, while a regulation requiring minimum temperatures in rented homes is expected to be suspended “so that tenants who want to save energy and turn down the heating are allowed to do so”.

As well as national rules, many German cities have also adopted their own energy-savings plans.

The Bavarian city of Augsburg, for example, has turned off its fountains, dimmed the facades of public buildings at night and is debating switching off some under-used traffic lights – and a housing cooperative in Dresden made national headlines when it announced it would limit hot water to certain times of day.

With certain exceptions, public buildings in Berlin will not have heating from April to the end of September each year, with room temperatures limited to a maximum of 20C for the rest of the year. In areas such as warehouses, technical rooms, corridors, the maximum will range from 10 to 15C.

Private enterprise has been getting in on the act too – Vonovia, Germany’s largest property group, plans to limit the temperature in its 350,000 homes to a maximum of 17C at night.

The head of consumer chemicals group Henkel has said that work-from-home practices may be reintroduced, while chemicals giant BASF has raised the possibility of putting its employees on furlough.

Recommendations – Economy Minister Robert Habeck has made headlines for extolling the virtues of shorter, colder showers.

France

France has an ambitious plan to cut its energy usage by 10 percent within two years and a government plan for sobriété énergétique (energy sobriety) is expected by September.

In the meantime, some rules have already been put in place while there are also some official recommendations. The general principle is that changes will be obligatory for government buildings and businesses, but voluntary for private households. 

Rules – In 2013, a law obliging businesses to switch off outside lights by 1am came into force. That deadline may be brought forward and towns and villages may have to switch off streetlights earlier – some areas have already taken this decision.

Shops that have air conditioning must keep their doors closed during business hours, so that less energy is lost.

Limits have been suggested for heating and air conditioning – keep heating to a maximum of 19C and air con to a minimum of 26C at the height of summer. The Prime Minister says she ‘expects’ government buildings to show an example and adhere to these, but they are voluntary for households.

Meanwhile, the heads of large supermarket chains in France have made a voluntary agreement for all stores to employ energy-saving techniques, such as turning off electric signs at closing times, reducing light usage, and managing store temperatures, from October 15th this year. They will also cut lighting by half before opening time, and by 30 percent during “critical consumption periods”.

Additionally, they will “cut off air renewal at night” and “lower the temperature in outlets to 17C this autumn and winter, if requested by a regulatory authority”.

Recommendations – The government has urged individuals to adopt energy-saving practices – by switching off wifi routers when on holiday, turning off lights, unplugging electric appliances when not in use, and lowering the air-con.

France’s energy transition minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher has urged people to keep heating to a maximum of 19C and air con to a minimum of 26C at the height of summer.

Spain

Spain has introduced perhaps the most wide-ranging set of rules in its new energy-saving bill, which comes into force on August 10th.

Public buildings as well as shops, restaurants, cafés, supermarkets, transport hubs and cultural spaces must:

  • Set heating and cooling temperatures to limits of 19C and 27C respectively;
  • Install doors that automatically close by September 30th to prevent energy waste, as can happen with regular doors that are left open;
  • Lights in shop windows must be turned off by 10pm;
  • Posters must be put up to explain the energy saving measures in every building or establishment, and thermometers must be displayed to show the temperature and humidity of the room.

READ ALSO: Is it realistic for Spain to set the air con limit at 27C during summer?

Recommendations – the above rules do not apply to private homes, but it is recommended to follow the heating and cooling limits.

Meanwhile, working from home is recommended for large companies and public administration buildings to help “save on the displacement and thermal consumption of buildings”, Spain’s Minister for Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera said.

And have you thought about your outfit? Here’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez explaining why he’s ditching his tie to stay a little bit cooler.

Italy

Back in April the Italian government approved limits on the use of air conditioning in public offices and schools from May 1st, to save energy and wean itself off reliance on Russian gas imports.

At the time Ministers said that Italy would be able to end its reliance on Russian gas within 18 months, after previously giving a timeframe of at least two years.

Rules – In public buildings, energy use will be measured in individual rooms of each building – the temperature must not exceed 19C in winter and cannot be any lower than 27C in summer, with a margin of tolerance of two degrees – meaning the lowest allowed temperature is actually 25C.

Fines for non-compliance with the rules are said to range from €500 to €3,000. The measure does not currently apply to clinics, hospitals and nursing homes.

Italy has long had rules in place limiting the usage of heating in homes and public buildings during winter. Northern and mountainous areas are allowed to switch on the heat in October, while some parts of the south can’t turn up the dial until December.

Even then, there are limits on how long you’re allowed to keep the central heating on each day, ranging from six hours in the warmest parts of the country to 14 hours in chillier regions.

And there are rules on maximum temperatures – private homes, offices and schools should not be heated to more than 20C, with a 2C tolerance. Meanwhile factories and workshops should generally be kept at 18C.

Austria

The Austrian government has said it will work on measures to encourage energy saving among households and businesses while putting a cap on electricity prices.

The aim is to “support the Austrian population to ensure unaffordable energy supply for a certain basic need”, according to a government statement. 

The government didn’t give details on the price cap but said that conditions would be developed by the end of August.

Sweden

Sweden has announced no new measures in response to the energy crisis, but already has certain limits in place. 

Many Swedish apartment buildings and housing cooperatives have a strict maximum heating limit of 21C indoors and in some buildings radiators have a limiter on them so they cannot be turned too high.

In Denmark, too, the government has introduced no specific new measures.

Switzerland

In common with other countries, Switzerland is at risk of a gas shortage this winter and the government has warned that restrictions on consumption during the coldest months cannot be excluded.

Nearly half of its annual supply is of Russian origin. “We are not an island, so the war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis also affect Switzerland,” Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said at the end of June. “In this context, there is no certainty about what awaits us.”

The possibility that Swiss households will have to turn down the thermostat this winter is very real. 

In the event of an actual shortage, “consumption restrictions may be ordered, for example restrictions on the heating of unoccupied buildings. The switching to biofuel could be imposed by ordinance”, Economy Minister Guy Parmelin has said.

If shortages persist, a quota system would be implemented – with households and essential services, such as hospitals, among the last to be affected.

But Parmelin insisted, “the role of the State is to guarantee a good supply of gas and electricity to the country. We want at all costs to avoid a disruption in supply, which would have a strong impact on businesses and  would then lead to an economic crisis”.

UK

Less reliant on Russian gas because of its own gas reserves, the UK is currently less worried about supply than price – soaring utility bills may force many households into poverty this winter, campaigners have warned.

Households in the UK will start receiving a discount worth a total £400 (€478) off their energy bills from October, the British government has said, with the support package rises to £1,200 (€1,430) for the poorest households.

A recent report by National Grid said there was little chance of the lights going out in the UK this winter – though experts have warned that a severe cold spell could prompt action, such as shutdowns of non-critical factory operations, to ensure homes can be heated.

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