The cover of the most recent issue of the Spanish satirical magazine El Jueves showed a sweaty and goggle-eyed Pedro Sánchez tapping away furiously at a fruit machine and shouting, “Again! Again!”, as he went for the big prize – the job of Spain’s prime minister.
Gathered over his shoulder were his political opponents, including the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, whose caricature noted: “Spain has a really bad gambling problem.”
What it may have lacked in subtlety, it made up for in truth. Many Spaniards are anxious over the spread of gambling halls but equally concerned about the socialist leader’s decision to take a punt on the country’s fourth election in as many years.
After proving unable to form a government following April’s election, in which his party finished first but fell 53 seats short of an absolute majority, Sánchez had little choice but to call another poll.
Negotiations with Unidas Podemos had proved fruitless and acrimonious, while the centre-right Citizens party refused to countenance any deal that would return Sánchez to power.
The problem when it comes to elections – and politics in general – is that this is not the Spain of six years ago. The old, binary certainties are long gone.
The traditional duopoly of the Spanish socialist workers’ party (PSOE) on the left and the People’s party (PP) on the right has been throughly detonated by the arrival of Podemos, Citizens, and now the far-right Vox.
In 2019, there are now three parties competing for votes on the right, and three doing the same on the left – thanks to the emergence of Más País (More Country), the party led by Podemos co-founder Iñigo Errejón.
That fragmentation has been further exacerbated by the Catalan question. The latest election was always going to find itself hostage to the supreme court’s verdict in the trial of 12 separatist leaders over their role in the failed independence push of autumn 2017.
But the verdict was met with a ferocity few had expected – and one which damaged the Catalan independence movement’s previously unimpeachable record on peaceful action. There has also been bitter criticism of the police’s handling of the unrest. However, scenes of burning barricades and clashes between police and rioters have proved an utter godsend for Vox.
Until very recently, the far-right party appeared to be stalling only a few months after picking up its first ever seats in congress. But the events of the past month have chimed perfectly with its calls for decentralisation and a hardline response to Catalan nationalism.
Conversely, they also look set to boost the listless and divided regional independence movement, which is pleased to see the issue back on the political and media agenda at last.
Less happy are the millions of Spaniards who have found themselves voting in yet another election that offers no guarantee of a rapid end to the political impasse that is becoming the new, and uncomfortable, normal.