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Candidates in Spain urge voters to keep far-right at bay

Published
A partially damaged poster of Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez flaps in Parla, outskirts Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. What those undecided voters do in this tight race will shape the fortunes of the two political blocs that loosely took shape during campaigning that ended Friday. With no one party expected to win over 50 percent of Sunday's vote, the question becomes which of Spain's top five parties will join together after the vote to create a governing alliance. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

MADRID (AP) — Appealing to Spain's large pool of undecided voters, top candidates on both the right and left urged Spaniards to choose wisely and keep the far-right at bay in Sunday's general election.

What those undecided voters do in this tight race will shape the fortunes of the two political blocs that loosely took shape during campaigning that ended Friday. With no one party expected to win over 50 percent of Sunday's vote, the question becomes which of Spain's top five parties will join together after the vote to create a governing alliance.

The incumbent Socialist candidate, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, said Friday he's open to a coalition with the anti-austerity United We Can party, hinting for the first time at a possible center-left governing deal.

On the political right, which the conservative Popular Party used to dominate but which has splintered into three main groups, the upstart far-right Vox party is making inroads.

Citizens leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, insists that his center-right party will only join a governing coalition with the conservatives. His campaign-end speech on Friday in Valencia, which also holds a regional election, focused on lambasting the Socialists while vowing to "unite Spaniards, not separate them."

The Popular Party's new leader, Pablo Casado, is also determined to unseat the leftist Sánchez from power but is also battling to stop the far-right from draining votes away from his party, as pollsters are predicting.

"The only alternative to Sánchez is the Popular Party, because we are the only ones that can reach agreements and avoid a deadlock," said Casado, warning that Spain's economy would suffer under a center-left alliance.

Casado opened the door to some kind of post-election understanding with the anti-migrant nationalists of Vox. He said the three parties on the political right could potentially "pool" their votes, although he didn't elaborate.

With no polling allowed in the week ahead of the vote, the only certainty is that a far-right populist party is poised to sit in Spain's national parliament for the first time since the 1980s, and that an even more fractured political landscape is likely to emerge from Sunday's election.

Astrid Barrio, a politics professor at the University of Valencia, said the real fight is taking place between the three right-wing parties. Vox has surged in support, mainly due to a rise in Spanish nationalism that is the direct result of separatist demands in the northeastern Catalonia region.

"The left has not responded to the right's radicalization and separatist parties have not even dared to call for an independence referendum as a condition to eventually back Sánchez," Barrio said, referring to the political crisis in Catalonia that has affected all of Spain.

"The idea of ??curbing the rise of the far-right has had a moderating effect," she said.

Three topless activists of the Femen group climbed onto a stage on Friday in central Madrid before Vox's leader Santiago Abascal was due to speak, shouting "It's not patriotism, it's fascism!" as the crowds screamed back at them and police intervened to drag the activists away.

Similar counter-protests have been used by Vox to garner even more support through social media outreach, as the party tries to influence the political debate on issues such as abortion, migration, traditional values or territorial unity.

Vox has also furiously blasted the country's fervent women's right movement.

Addressing thousands of supporters after the incident, Abascal said Sunday's choice was "between the leftist dictatorship and the Spain that is alive," and called on voters to fill the ballot boxes with "red and yellow ballots," the colors of the Spanish flag.

As he spoke, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini wished that Vox could bring to Spain the same changes that his anti-migrant League has brought to Italy.

"The time of the Europe of bureaucrats, bankers, do-gooders and boats is over, the people are back!" Salvini wrote in a tweet in an apparent reference to rescuing humanitarian groups he accuses of encouraging migration.

Spanish law bans media and parties from conducting polls during the final days of campaigning. But the latest surveys available, published Monday, showed that a third of Spain's nearly 37 million voters still haven't decided who to vote for.

Warning that the rise of Vox should not be underestimated, Sánchez urged Spaniards to cast a "useful vote."

"We are facing a real risk of the right-wing and the extreme right coming together," the prime minister said, citing how the Socialist party was unseated late last year by a right-wing pact after 36 years in power in Andalusia, Spain's most populous region.

A close election result could bring weeks of political hard bargaining, and Sánchez said he didn't want any government he leads to depend on the votes of small parties demanding regional independence, such as those in Catalonia, because they are "untrustworthy."

"Spain deserves four years of stability," he said, noting this is the country's third parliamentary election in less than four years.

Sánchez told the El País newspaper that "it isn't a problem" if the left-wing United We Can party led by Pablo Iglesias becomes part of his Cabinet if he wins the tight race and forms the next coalition government.

Speaking to supporters in Madrid, Iglesias said that voting for his anti-austerity coalition was the only way to ensure that a Socialist government would remain truthful to left-wing policies. United We Can risks falling from the third force in the national parliament to fourth or event fifth position, behind Vox.

____

Barry Hatton contributed from Lisbon, Portugal.

Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez waves to supporters during the closing campaign event in Valencia, 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/Alberto Saiz)
Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez speaks to supporters during the closing campaign event in Valencia, 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/Alberto Saiz)
Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado, right, and Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo arrive for the closing election campaign event in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
A Popular Party supporter shouts slogans during the closing election campaign event in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
A supporter holds a picture of Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado during the closing election campaign event in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
Spain's far-right Vox Party candidate Santiago Abascal gives a speech during an election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. On the political right, which the conservative Popular Party used to dominate but which has splintered into three main groups, the upstart far-right Vox party is making inroads. Citizens leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, insists that his center-right party will only join a governing coalition with the conservatives. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
EDS NOTE: NUDITY - An activist from FEMEN group is dragged away by Spanish police after jumping onto the stage of Spain's far-right VOX party during an election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. The text reads
An activist from FEMEN group is removed from the stage as she shouts slogans against Spain's far-right VOX party election campaign in Madrid, 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/Bernat Armangue)
A Spain's far-right Vox Party supporter shouts
Spain's far-right Vox Party supporters attend the closing election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. On the political right, which the conservative Popular Party used to dominate but which has splintered into three main groups, the upstart far-right Vox party is making inroads. Citizens leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, insists that his center-right party will only join a governing coalition with the conservatives. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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)
In this Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 photo, leader of the centre right Ciudadanos party, Albert Rivera, addresses the crowd during political meeting in Madrid, Spain. Albert Rivera is anything but shy. A university debate champion and water polo player in his youth, Rivera made his debut in politics in 2006 at age 27 by posing completely nude_ with hands over his groin_ for an eye-catching campaign poster. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
A sticker reading in Spanish
In this Wednesday, April 24, 2019 photo, Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias, takes part in an electoral meeting in Barcelona, Spain. Five years ago Pablo Iglesias was supposed to lead a leftist takeover of Spain. Now, the pony-tailed former TV politics commentator is struggling to keep his far-left United We Can party from breaking apart. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
People watch a live televised general election debate between four main candidates, as one of them, Spain acting Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez of Socialist Party, smiles, in Pamplona, Spain, Monday April 22, 2019. The debate is the first of two televised debates after Spain's electoral board barred the far-right Vox party from participating because it has no presence in the country's parliament. Spain goes to the polls next April 28. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
Spain's far-right Vox Party candidate Santiago Abascal gives a speech during an election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. On the political right, which the conservative Popular Party used to dominate but which has splintered into three main groups, the upstart far-right Vox party is making inroads. Citizens leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, insists that his center-right party will only join a governing coalition with the conservatives. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Spain's far-right Vox Party candidate Santiago Abascal gives a speech during an election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. On the political right, which the conservative Popular Party used to dominate but which has splintered into three main groups, the upstart far-right Vox party is making inroads. Citizens leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, insists that his center-right party will only join a governing coalition with the conservatives. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
In this Monday, April 15, 2019 photo, Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez gives a speech during an election campaign event in Leganes, outskirts of Madrid, Spain. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez and incumbent Prime Minister is aiming to pull off yet another unexpected political turnaround. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
In this Monday, April 15, 2019 photo, Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez gives a speech during an election campaign event in Leganes, outskirts of Madrid, Spain. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez and incumbent Prime Minister is aiming to pull off yet another unexpected political turnaround. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A sticker reading in Spanish
A sticker reading in Spanish "Stop multinationals" is seen on a banner of Spanish election runner Citizens party's Albert Rivera in a subway station Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
Spain's far-right Vox Party supporters attend the closing election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. On the political right, which the conservative Popular Party used to dominate but which has splintered into three main groups, the upstart far-right Vox party is making inroads. Citizens leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, insists that his center-right party will only join a governing coalition with the conservatives. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Spain's far-right Vox Party supporters attend the closing election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. On the political right, which the conservative Popular Party used to dominate but which has splintered into three main groups, the upstart far-right Vox party is making inroads. Citizens leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, insists that his center-right party will only join a governing coalition with the conservatives. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado, right, and Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo arrive for the closing election campaign event in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado, right, and Cayetana Alvarez de Toledo arrive for the closing election campaign event in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
In this Monday, April 15, 2019 photo, Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez interacts with retirees at the end of an election campaign event in Leganes, outskirts of Madrid, Spain. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez and incumbent Prime Minister is aiming to pull off yet another unexpected political turnaround. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
In this Monday, April 15, 2019 photo, Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez interacts with retirees at the end of an election campaign event in Leganes, outskirts of Madrid, Spain. Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez and incumbent Prime Minister is aiming to pull off yet another unexpected political turnaround. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
EDS NOTE: NUDITY - An activist from FEMEN group is dragged away by Spanish police after jumping onto the stage of Spain's far-right VOX party during an election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. The text reads
EDS NOTE: NUDITY - An activist from FEMEN group is dragged away by Spanish police after jumping onto the stage of Spain's far-right VOX party during an election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. The text reads "It's not patriotism, it's fascism". 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/Bernat Armangue)
In this Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 photo, leader of the centre right Ciudadanos party, Albert Rivera, addresses the crowd during political meeting in Madrid, Spain. Albert Rivera is anything but shy. A university debate champion and water polo player in his youth, Rivera made his debut in politics in 2006 at age 27 by posing completely nude_ with hands over his groin_ for an eye-catching campaign poster. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
In this Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018 photo, leader of the centre right Ciudadanos party, Albert Rivera, addresses the crowd during political meeting in Madrid, Spain. Albert Rivera is anything but shy. A university debate champion and water polo player in his youth, Rivera made his debut in politics in 2006 at age 27 by posing completely nude_ with hands over his groin_ for an eye-catching campaign poster. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez speaks to supporters during the closing campaign event in Valencia, 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/Alberto Saiz)
Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez speaks to supporters during the closing campaign event in Valencia, 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/Alberto Saiz)
A Popular Party supporter shouts slogans during the closing election campaign event in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
A Popular Party supporter shouts slogans during the closing election campaign event in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
A man walks past a banner of Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
A man walks past a banner of Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
People walk past a banner featuring a portrait of Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
People walk past a banner featuring a portrait of Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
In this Tuesday, April 16, 2019 photo, Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado smiles to supporters during an election campaign event in Madrid, Spain. Pablo Casado is facing his first electoral test at the head of the Popular Party, Spain's dominant political party on the right for the past three decades. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
In this Tuesday, April 16, 2019 photo, Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado smiles to supporters during an election campaign event in Madrid, Spain. Pablo Casado is facing his first electoral test at the head of the Popular Party, Spain's dominant political party on the right for the past three decades. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A Spain's far-right Vox Party supporter shouts
A Spain's far-right Vox Party supporter shouts "long live Spain" during Vox closing election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. On the political right, which the conservative Popular Party used to dominate but which has splintered into three main groups, the upstart far-right Vox party is making inroads. Citizens leader Albert Rivera, meanwhile, insists that his center-right party will only join a governing coalition with the conservatives. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
People watch a live televised general election debate between four main candidates, as one of them, Spain acting Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez of Socialist Party, smiles, in Pamplona, Spain, Monday April 22, 2019. The debate is the first of two televised debates after Spain's electoral board barred the far-right Vox party from participating because it has no presence in the country's parliament. Spain goes to the polls next April 28. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
People watch a live televised general election debate between four main candidates, as one of them, Spain acting Primer Minister Pedro Sanchez of Socialist Party, smiles, in Pamplona, Spain, Monday April 22, 2019. The debate is the first of two televised debates after Spain's electoral board barred the far-right Vox party from participating because it has no presence in the country's parliament. Spain goes to the polls next April 28. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez waves to supporters during the closing campaign event in Valencia, 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/Alberto Saiz)
Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez waves to supporters during the closing campaign event in Valencia, 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/Alberto Saiz)
A supporter holds a picture of Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado during the closing election campaign event in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
A supporter holds a picture of Popular Party's candidate Pablo Casado during the closing election campaign event in Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
A partially damaged poster of Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez flaps in Parla, outskirts Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. What those undecided voters do in this tight race will shape the fortunes of the two political blocs that loosely took shape during campaigning that ended Friday. With no one party expected to win over 50 percent of Sunday's vote, the question becomes which of Spain's top five parties will join together after the vote to create a governing alliance. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A partially damaged poster of Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist Party candidate Pedro Sanchez flaps in Parla, outskirts Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. What those undecided voters do in this tight race will shape the fortunes of the two political blocs that loosely took shape during campaigning that ended Friday. With no one party expected to win over 50 percent of Sunday's vote, the question becomes which of Spain's top five parties will join together after the vote to create a governing alliance. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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 sticker reading in Spanish
A sticker reading in Spanish "Stop multinationals" is seen on a banner of Spanish election runner Citizens party's Albert Rivera in a subway station Madrid, 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/Andrea Comas)
In this Wednesday, April 24, 2019 photo, Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias, takes part in an electoral meeting in Barcelona, Spain. Five years ago Pablo Iglesias was supposed to lead a leftist takeover of Spain. Now, the pony-tailed former TV politics commentator is struggling to keep his far-left United We Can party from breaking apart. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
In this Wednesday, April 24, 2019 photo, Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias, takes part in an electoral meeting in Barcelona, Spain. Five years ago Pablo Iglesias was supposed to lead a leftist takeover of Spain. Now, the pony-tailed former TV politics commentator is struggling to keep his far-left United We Can party from breaking apart. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
An activist from FEMEN group is removed from the stage as she shouts slogans against Spain's far-right VOX party election campaign in Madrid, 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/Bernat Armangue)
An activist from FEMEN group is removed from the stage as she shouts slogans against Spain's far-right VOX party election campaign in Madrid, 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/Bernat Armangue)