Far-right party Vox became the third-largest party in Spain's parliament following a national election on Sunday, winning 52 seats, up from 24 at its debut in April.

People queue to cast their votes inside a polling station during the general election in Barcelona, Spain, November 10, 2019.
People queue to cast their votes inside a polling station during the general election in Barcelona, Spain, November 10, 2019. (Reuters)

Far-right Vox became the third-largest party in Spain's parliament in a national election on Sunday, winning 52 seats, up from 24 at its debut in April.

The April election was the first time a far-right party won more than one seat since Spain returned to democracy in the 1970s.

In April, the Socialists won 123 seats in the parliament's lower house, 53 seats short of a majority.

Right rising 

Founded in 2013 by former members of the mainstream conservative People's Party, Vox is anti-Muslim, nationalist, anti-feminist, Eurosceptic, socially conservative, economically liberal, and staunchly pro-Spanish unity.

It got its first foothold in office last December, winning 12 parliamentary seats in a regional election in Andalusia.

One of Vox's founding aims was "recentralisation": rewriting the constitution to abolish regional autonomy and parliaments, a theme that has struck a chord with many after a failed independence bid by Catalonia in 2017 and unrest in the northeast triggered by jail sentences for separatist leaders last month.

Positioning itself as vehemently anti-secessionist, it has berated the caretaker Socialist government for making deals with separatists to win their backing in parliament over the past year, and for failing to maintain order in Catalonia.

Vox is aligned with the broader populist movement that has also risen swiftly in other European countries, notably Austria, Denmark, France, Germany and Italy.

The entire 350-seat lower house and 208 senators was elected on Sunday, chosen by Spain's 37 million eligible voters. 

Earlier in the day, a leading leftist party pledged to help Spain's incumbent Socialists in hopes of staving off a possible right-wing coalition government that could include the far-right Vox party. This would not succeed.

Spain's United We Can party leader Pablo Iglesias said he will offer assistance to the Socialists, led by interim Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, to form a stable leftist government. 

Sunday's repeated election was called after the Socialists and United We Can, currently Spain's fourth-largest party in parliament, failed to reach an agreement following the last election in April.

Spain's four main parties have focused their campaigns on how to deal with the independence push in the northeastern region of Catalonia and the feared surge of the far-right Vox party.

TRT World's Francis Collings has more.

After casting his ballot in Madrid, Sanchez urged Spaniards to head to the polls, saying "it is very important that we all participate to strengthen our democracy" and that the country "has the needed stability to be able to form a government".

The last election produced a near-record 76 percent turnout, which helped Sanchez who had mobilised left-leaning voters to oppose Vox.

But as of 2 pm (1300 GMT) turnout stood at 37.9 percent, 3.5 percentage points lower than at the same time during the April race.

Voting stations closed at 8:00 pm.

Catalan crisis

The election comes as Spain finds itself increasingly polarised by the Catalan crisis, which has deepened in recent weeks.

Less than a month ago, the Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy jail terms over their role in a failed 2017 independence bid, sparking days of angry street protests in Barcelona and other Catalan cities that sometimes turned violent.

More than 600 people were injured in the protests, which saw demonstrators torching barricades and throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police.

During a TV election debate, PP leader Pablo Casado called for a "real government that will put order in Catalonia".

But the toughest line against the Catalan separatists has come from Vox leader Santiago Abascal.

"Drastic solutions are needed," he said during his final campaign rally on Friday night in Madrid.

He repeated his pledge to end the Catalan crisis by suspending Catalonia's regional autonomy, banning separatist parties and arresting its regional president, Quim Torra, who has vowed to continue the secession drive.

The crowd responded by chanting "Torra to the dungeon."

"I voted for the right because the most important thing is the unity of Spain and pensions," said Rafael Garcia.

The 84-year-old did not want to say which party got his vote at a polling station in Madrid's northern Hortaleza neighbourhood where Abascal lives.

More of the same?

Vox won 24 seats in parliament in the last election in April, in the first significant showing by a far-right faction since Spain's return to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

This time Vox could double that number, polls suggest.

In recent days, Sanchez has repeatedly raised the alarm about Vox's "aggressive ultra-rightwing" policies, warning the party would drag the country back to the dark days of Franco's dictatorship.

"I thought of not voting... but then I would be upset if the right won with the far-right," said Mari Carmen Lopez, a 25-year-old physical therapist, after casting her vote for far-left Podemos in Barcelona.

Spain has been caught in political paralysis since the election of December 2015 when Podemos and business-friendly Ciudadanos entered parliament.

That put an end to decades of dominance of the two main parties, the PP and the Socialists, in the eurozone's fourth-largest economy.

"Voting intentions appear to have changed since the April election. But these changes will not make it easier to form a government," says ING analyst Steven Trypsteen.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies