A protest against the trial of Catalan politicians last month in Madrid. Photo: Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Spanish politics have been upended in recent years by the breakdown of 2-party dominance, a fiery national debate over Catalan independence and the rise of a new far-right movement, Vox.

Why it matters: All 3 factors will be central to Sunday's general election. Political paralysis is perhaps the most likely outcome.

  • Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists lead in the polls, but would likely need the support of separatist parties to form a government. One problem: A dispute with pro-independence parties forced him to call the election in the first place.
  • The 3 right-of-center parties contesting the election have been portraying Sanchez as sympathetic to Calatan separatism at a time when leaders of the independence movement are on trial in Madrid for staging a 2017 referendum.
  • The election could yield a right-wing coalition that includes Vox, Spain's most successful far-right party since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, but the polls make that look unlikely.

What to watch: If no sustainable solution emerges, we could see yet another election before long.

The big picture: "The pattern is becoming familiar in Europe, where fed-up voters have abandoned the traditional parties of right and left (ask France's Republicans, or Italy's Democrats) and opted for a plethora of new groups, some on either extreme of the spectrum, others harder to pin down," the Economist notes.

  • "Political fragmentation has caused protracted delays to the formation of governments in Germany, Italy, Sweden and Estonia in the past year or so."

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