David Gardner: Spain’s Open Election Highlights Its Polarisation Problem: "Spain this month faces the most wide-open electoral contest since the restoration of democracy that followed the death of Francisco Franco.... The three parties on the right are competing to prove who can be the most bellicose towards minority nationalisms—the touchstone issue of rightwing populism in Spain rather than immigration...

...The eurozone crisis from 2009, after which Spain needed EU help to bail out banks mired in real estate speculation and impose bitter austerity, has left livid scars. That, and the aggression with which elements of the right are trying to rewind the clock on women’s rights, means this general election is an identity contest, a left-right conflict and a culture war rolled into one. Josep Borrell, foreign minister in the Sanchez administration and former leader of the PSOE, says these elections are of “existential importance”, warning that Spain’s democracy is being corroded by a culture of insult and incitement, particularly by ever more radical rightwing and Catalan separatist parties. “There is a systematic exacerbation of tension and conflict, incited by people from both sides because that’s what they live off”....

The right’s mantra is that if Mr Sanchez returns it will be to lead a “Frankenstein government”, a monster assembled from different body parts—Socialists, a Podemos seen as a cauldron of anarchists and Bolsheviks, and Catalan separatists. Mr Casado provocatively calls it a new Popular Front, the 1936-39 Republican government against which Franco launched his crusade.... Felipe González, Socialist premier through most of the 1980s and 1990s, speaking this month about a possible tripartite government of the right including Vox, asked scornfully “do we really have to be content [with a choice] between a Frankenstein government and a Francostein one?”...

“To find a way out [of the Catalan crisis] the PSOE and its allies would need to win big,” says Andreu Mas-Colell, a former Harvard professor who was economics minister in the Catalan government when its leadership turned separatist in 2012. “They need a big Catalan vote and many Catalans know that.”...

This election could turn on how women voters react to some of the positions rightwing parties have taken. Vox complains loudly about “gender laws” and “discrimination” against men in domestic abuse laws. The PP called into question legislation on abortion that had seemed settled—Mr Casado said he was thinking of who would pay the pensions of Spain’s ageing population. This seems to have sparked a backlash. “I think it’s [women’s votes] one of the few things that can save this country,” says Pablo Echenique of Podemos. Another critical factor might be if a returned Socialist-led government tries federalist means to reinvent a Spain that re-embraces the Catalan people—the ones who want to leave as well as those who want to stay—as Mr Sanchez has long suggested...


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