Electoral fraud scandals mar Spain’s local elections campaign

Several alleged vote-buying scandals marred the end of campaigning Friday for Spain's May 28th local and regional elections in a blow to the ruling Socialist party.

Electoral fraud scandals mar Spain's local elections campaign
Electoral fraud scandals mar end of Spain vote campaign. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

The first such incident was detected in Melilla, one of Spain’s two North African enclaves located on Morocco’s Mediterranean shoreline where police arrested 10 people earlier this week on suspicion of buying postal votes.

Media reports said families in financial difficulty were being offered between €50 and €200 in exchange for their vote.

READ ALSO: How to vote in person in Spain’s municipal elections

Investigators then uncovered a similar case in Mojácar, a coastal town in southeastern Spain, where police arrested seven people on Wednesday who were due to appear in court Friday. Public television said votes there were being sold for €100.

And in the southeastern town of Albudeite, police briefly arrested another 13 people in connection with a vote-buying scandal before freeing them on conditional release.

READ ALSO: Spain’s key regional and local elections at a glance 

In Mojácar and Albudeite, the alleged vote-buying involved members of Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist party, prompting the right-wing opposition to demand answers from the prime minister, who until now, has kept mum on the subject.

“We demand that the prime minister take full responsibility and explain what has been happening,” said opposition leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo, head of the right-wing Popular Party (PP).

Press reports said there have been further complaints about vote-buying in two other areas in which the Socialists have pointed the finger at the PP.

Voters will on Sunday elect mayors in 8,131 municipalities across the country, and chose leaders in 12 of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions.

Sunday’s vote is seen as a crucial barometer ahead of a year-end general election which polls suggest will be won by the PP although the party is seen falling short of an absolute majority.

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Collapse of Spain’s far-left complicates vote for Sánchez

The disastrous local election results chalked up by Podemos and its hard-left allies have left them floundering ahead of Spain's July vote, jeopardising Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's bid for re-election.

Collapse of Spain's far-left complicates vote for Sánchez

The outcome of the May 28th local and regional elections was “very bad for the whole of the hard-left”, said Anton Losada, a political scientist from Santiago de Compostela University, referring to parties to the left of Sánchez’s Socialists.

Podemos, the junior partner in Sánchez’s coalition and the main hard-left actor, saw its support collapse in the municipal vote and the faction even disappeared altogether in several regions, including Madrid and Valencia.

READ ALSO: Five key takeaways from Spain’s regional and local elections

It was also a bad day for Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, number three in Sánchez’s government who is spearheading the hard-left’s electoral hopes.

Although she had no role in the vote, she was involved in several failed campaigns, including that of Barcelona mayor Ada Colau and her Valencian counterpart Joan Ribó, both of whom lost their seats.

For Lluís Orriols, a political scientist at Madrid’s Carlos III University, the result was the final nail in the coffin for the hard left, marking its “failure” to put up a united front that would inspire its voters.

Podemos, which grew out of the anti-austerity “Indignados” protest movement to become Spain’s third-largest political force in 2015, delighted its followers by entering a coalition government with the Socialists in 2020.

But the excitement has largely faded following a string of disputes and controversies, notably Podemos’ flagship rape law which paradoxically allowed some offenders to reduce their sentences.

READ ALSO: Who won where in Spain’s regional elections?

Unite or die

The electoral collapse of the hard left is bad news for Sánchez, whose Socialists also took a beating on Sunday May 28th, losing six regions to the right and being roundly beaten in the local poll by the right-wing Popular Party, which won most votes.

With polls suggesting the right will win on July 23rd – although without an absolute majority, it will need support from the far-right Vox to govern – Sánchez will need the hard left to do well if is to have any chance of reviving his coalition.

“For the left as a whole to have a good result, it’s obvious that the hard-left need to be united,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist from Barcelona’s Autonomous University.

READ ALSO: Spanish PM calls snap election for July

And for the upcoming elections, “they have no other option” than to come together in a single list if they want to avoid its voters abstaining as they did on Sunday, warned Losada.

And if they are unable to do so “the punishment at the ballot box could be devastating.”

Time running out

The snap election has also thrown down the gauntlet for Labour Minister Díaz, who is fighting against the clock to unify the hard-left on her Sumar platform although she only has until June 9th to register it for the elections.

“I am an optimistic woman and there’s no doubt we will have reached an agreement” by then, she said on Friday.

“It is a complex process because it involves bringing together some very different political forces,” Universities Minister Joan Subirats, who belongs to Podemos, told public television on Thursday evening.

The main obstacle has been Podemos, which until now has demanded a prominent role, although its dire result on Sunday has weakened its position.

“We have to accept the result. We need to be humble,” admitted Pablo Iglesias on Monday. A co-founder of Podemos, who led it from 2014 until 2021 when he stepped back from politics, he remains the party’s most influential voice.

Even if the hard left was to unite under a single banner, it remains unclear whether such a “last-minute agreement” would be capable of producing a platform that would captivate the voters’ imagination, said Orriols.

“They wasted time for the past two years” with squabbling between Podemos and Díaz, “and now it’s everyone for himself,” he added.