After the first televised debate among the candidates, Spain's current prime minister, Pedro Sanchez is still holding a 30% share in opinion polls. But he is unlikely to be an outright winner.
As Spain prepares to hold its third general election in four years, the first of two televised debates among the leading candidates was held on Monday, with the second going ahead on Wednesday evening.
The first 100-minute debate included Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), conservative People's Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado, Pablo Iglesias of the far-left Podemos party and Albert Rivera, the head of the center-right Citizens party. The far-right Vox party was not allowed part as it only gained 0.2% of the vote in the last elections.
Sanchez called the elections after rightwing parties and separatist Catalan parties rejected his 2019 budget in February.
Sanchez unlikely to win majority
Opinion polls show Sanchez's PSOE holds about a 30% share of the vote, meaning he could miss an absolute majority by a large margin. He would then be dependent on the support of Podemos and other smaller parties to form a new government.
Meanwhile, a putative coalition of Casado's PP, Rivera's Citizens party and the far-right Vox of Santiago Abascal, have a combined 45% in the polls - putting them short of a parliamentary majority.
But surveys also showed that four in 10 voters were still unsure who they were voting for.
In terms of what will influence voting, the issues Spaniards are most concerned about are unemployment, corruption and fraud and the country's politics, politicians and political parties, according to a survey from Spain's Center for Sociological Research.
Catalonia a point of tension
Policies on Catalonia will also play a role. Sanchez's government has tried to negotiate a greater degree of autonomy for Catalonia with its independence-minded government.
The right-wing parties have focused their political attacks on Sanchez, in particular on his Catalonia policies.
But Sanchez may need the Catalan separatists to stay in power, and they want him to be open to an independence referendum, which he has so far opposed.
Far-right Vox party set to gain seats
Last week, election officials suspended the debate, which initially was to include the far-right Vox party candidate Abascal.
The decision came after three regional parties from Catalonia, the Basque Country and the Canary Islands complained that they were being left out.
Legislative reforms introduced in 2011 state that private networks have the obligation to respect the same principles of "neutrality and equality" as public stations, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.
The Central Electoral Board (JEC) established that only parties that had earned at least 5% of votes at the last general election could participate in the televised debates.
Vox received 0.2% of the vote in the 2016 election but this percentage looks set to increase, even as high as 10%, following the election on Sunday.
law/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)