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AP Explains: Polarized and undecided, Spain heads to polls

Published
Customers have lunch while Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist candidate Pedro Sanchez appears on TV in a restaurant in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far-right entering Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of a far-right party entering parliament are the backdrop for Spain's most polarized national election in decades.

A look at why the country's voters were called to cast ballots early and what's at stake when do Sunday:

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HOW DID SPAIN GET HERE?

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez came to power last June when he succeeded in ousting the conservative Mariano Rajoy, who retired from politics after he lost a no-confidence vote following a major court ruling in a corruption case that implicated his Popular Party.

Sánchez*s minority government was able to cling to power for a short time. But it failed to pass a national budget in February, resulting in him calling early elections.

Spain*s third national election in four years is the result of the emergence of new parties born from discontentment about the global economic crisis, which has hit Spain particularly hard.

The economy is back growing again, but long gone are the days when the Socialists and Popular Party divvied up most of the electoral spoils.

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WHO'S RUNNING

Sanchez is the front-runner according to all the polling data, but the increased fragmentation of Spanish politics means that the combined forces of two rightwing parties and the upstart extremist party Vox could win the day.

Joining the Popular Party on the right are the pro-business Citizens party, and the nationalist Vox, which defends bull-fighting as an essential Spanish tradition, is hostile to women's rights, and promises to stop illegal immigration.

Voters angry with austerity measures have United We Can on the far left.

Around one-third of potential voters were still undecided heading into the final week of the campaign, according to polls. Up for grabs are the 350 members of the Congress of Deputies, who then choose a government.

Voting stations open at 9 a.m. (0700GMT) and close at 8 p.m. (1800GMT), with results expected a few hours later.

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THE LEFT'S CHANCES

Even if the Socialists get the largest share of votes, their ability to stay in power will likely depend on forging alliances.

Sánchez has hinted that he could end up inviting United We Can to form a center-left government like the one that rules Portugal. There has also been speculation that the Socialists could move the other way toward the center-right Citizens, but Sánchez says that option is "not in his plans."

But it is likely that Sánchez would still need to woo some small regionalist parties into backing him.

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A RIGHTWING COALITION?

Vox is poised to give Spain's Parliament its first openly far-right lawmakers since the 1980s.

Instead of promising to isolate Vox like mainstream parties have done in some other European countries to keep extremists out of government, both the Popular Party and Citizens are radicalizing their messages to stem the flow of voters to Vox.

New Popular Party leader Pablo Casado says the three parties on the right should 3/8pool3/8 their votes if they have enough to kick Sánchez out of the presidential palace in Madrid.

The three right-wing parties have already shown they can join forces.

In January, the Popular Party struck a deal with Vox to get its backing so the Popular Party and Citizens could form a government in southern Andalusia following regional elections.

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WHAT'S AT STAKE?

The incoming government faces the task of dealing with chronic unemployment and dwindling funds for the public pension system.

But the most divisive question is how to deal with the festering political crisis caused by wealthy Catalonia's push for secession.

The Socialists are defending the current model of Spain*s government, which gives its regions sweeping powers to run social services, such as education and health.

But all three right-wing parties — Popular Party, Citizens, and Vox — are vying to tap into the widespread anger in Spain toward Catalonia after its leaders tried to secede two years ago. All three criticize Sanchez for opening talks with the region's pro-secession leaders. Vox has even pledged to recentralize all power from Spain's regions.

Catalan separatists are also aiming to increase their current 17 seats to have more leverage in parliament. Five of the 12 separatist leaders on trial for the failed 2017 breakaway bid are running as candidates from a jail cell.

A man walks beside an election campaign election poster for the Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez reading, ''Make It Happen', in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
CAPTION CORRECTS THE DATE  Ballot boxes are seen inside a polling station ahead of the general election in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
The leader of Spain's socialist party Pedro Sanchez stands his wife Begona Gomez in the countryside one day before election day in Madrid, Spain, Saturday April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (Inma Mesa/PSOE via AP)
A woman rests on a public bench beside a campaign election banner for the Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez reading, ''Make It Happen
A man reads a newspaper in a terrace bar on what's called 'The day of Reflection' before the general elections, in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. Political parties give the public a rest day from their canvassing to relax and ponder before voting on Sunday. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (AP Photo/Paul White)
The leader of the conservative Popular Party Pablo Casado walks with his wife and children one day before election day in Madrid, Spain, Saturday April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (David Mudarra via AP)
A woman checks a cellular phone while waiting for a public bus beside an election campaign poster the Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez reading, ''Make It Happen
A portrait of Republican Left party leader Oriol Junqueras displayed on stage before a broadcast of him live from a prison in Madrid, as he takes part during a closing election campaign event in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. Appealing to Spain's large pool of undecided voters, top candidates on both the right and left are urging Spaniards to choose wisely and keep the far-right at bay in Sunday's general election. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Customers have lunch while Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist candidate Pedro Sanchez appears on TV in a restaurant in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far-right entering Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Customers have lunch while Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist candidate Pedro Sanchez appears on TV in a restaurant in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far-right entering Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A man reads a newspaper in a terrace bar on what's called 'The day of Reflection' before the general elections, in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. Political parties give the public a rest day from their canvassing to relax and ponder before voting on Sunday. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (AP Photo/Paul White)
A man reads a newspaper in a terrace bar on what's called 'The day of Reflection' before the general elections, in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. Political parties give the public a rest day from their canvassing to relax and ponder before voting on Sunday. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (AP Photo/Paul White)
The leader of Spain's socialist party Pedro Sanchez stands his wife Begona Gomez in the countryside one day before election day in Madrid, Spain, Saturday April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (Inma Mesa/PSOE via AP)
The leader of Spain's socialist party Pedro Sanchez stands his wife Begona Gomez in the countryside one day before election day in Madrid, Spain, Saturday April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (Inma Mesa/PSOE via AP)
CAPTION CORRECTS THE DATE  Ballot boxes are seen inside a polling station ahead of the general election in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
CAPTION CORRECTS THE DATE Ballot boxes are seen inside a polling station ahead of the general election in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A man walks beside an election campaign election poster for the Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez reading, ''Make It Happen', in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
A man walks beside an election campaign election poster for the Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez reading, ''Make It Happen', in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
The leader of the conservative Popular Party Pablo Casado walks with his wife and children one day before election day in Madrid, Spain, Saturday April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (David Mudarra via AP)
The leader of the conservative Popular Party Pablo Casado walks with his wife and children one day before election day in Madrid, Spain, Saturday April 27, 2019. An uncertain outcome and the likelihood of the far right erupting into Spain's Parliament looms over national elections on Sunday, when nearly 37 million Spaniards are called to cast ballots in the most highly polarized election in decades. (David Mudarra via AP)
A woman rests on a public bench beside a campaign election banner for the Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez reading, ''Make It Happen
A woman rests on a public bench beside a campaign election banner for the Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez reading, ''Make It Happen" as pigeons flies past in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
A portrait of Republican Left party leader Oriol Junqueras displayed on stage before a broadcast of him live from a prison in Madrid, as he takes part during a closing election campaign event in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. Appealing to Spain's large pool of undecided voters, top candidates on both the right and left are urging Spaniards to choose wisely and keep the far-right at bay in Sunday's general election. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A portrait of Republican Left party leader Oriol Junqueras displayed on stage before a broadcast of him live from a prison in Madrid, as he takes part during a closing election campaign event in Barcelona, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. Appealing to Spain's large pool of undecided voters, top candidates on both the right and left are urging Spaniards to choose wisely and keep the far-right at bay in Sunday's general election. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
A woman checks a cellular phone while waiting for a public bus beside an election campaign poster the Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez reading, ''Make It Happen
A woman checks a cellular phone while waiting for a public bus beside an election campaign poster the Spanish Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez reading, ''Make It Happen" in Pamplona, northern Spain, Saturday, April 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)