As Spaniards went to the polls in a watershed election today, overall turnout was slightly higher than in 2011 by 6pm. With two hours to go before polling stations closed, turnout was 58.36%, less than one percentage point higher than four years ago. In Catalonia, where the political scene is further complicated by the secessionist drive, turnout was 56.64%.
Analysts have been predicting a turnout of as much as 80% in an election that is expected to end the two-party dominance enjoyed since the early 1980s by the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).
Participation has been notably higher in postal voting, where there was a 14.45% increase in applications for absentee ballots. A total of 771,860 people are voting this way on a day that caught some Spaniards away on Christmas holidays.
All the main candidates to the prime minister’s position had already voted by 6pm. The incumbent, Mariano Rajoy of the PP, cast his ballot in Aravaca, a town northwest of the capital, where he called the good turnout figures “comforting.”
His Socialist challenger, Pedro Sánchez, voted at 11.15pm in Pozuelo, another town northwest of Madrid, stating that “we are going to write the future with our vote.” Albert Rivera, the leader of liberal newcomer Ciudadanos, voted in L’Hospitalet de Llobregat (Barcelona), where he called on people to come to the polling stations.
Pablo Iglesias, head of the anti-austerity Podemos, was the last of the four main contenders to cast his vote. Speaking at Tirso de Molina High School in Vallecas, a blue-collar district of Madrid, he said that Spain is undergoing “a second transition.”
Of the 10 general elections held since June 1977, nearly two years after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, the highest turnout (79.97%) was registered in 1982, when the Socialists sailed to an absolute majority under Felipe González.
Spaniards are choosing 350 congress members and 208 senators under a voting system of closed lists that is skewed in favor of the two top performers.
Although no incidents of note have been registered throughout the day at the 57,511 polling stations, the social media were buzzing with angry reactions to an image that was tweeted by the Interior Ministry at 12.08pm, depicting an old black-and-white shot of late 1970s prime minister Adolfo Suárez casting his vote and a parallel one of Rajoy doing the same. Under the pictures, a caption read: “Between these two images, 38 years of democratic history have elapsed in Spain.”
Dozens of users wondered if it was even legal to publish such content.
“Is it not a crime to use the account of an official agency for crass electioneering on an election day?” wondered a high school teacher.
“Yes, 38 years of history, but with a great difference! In black and white, you have political decency; in colour you have indecency,” wrote a Socialist politician from Cáceres.