Spanish election campaign cut short by Holy Week

Daniel SILVA
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Parties have agreed not to hold rallies during processions

Parties have agreed not to hold rallies during processions (AFP Photo/JORGE GUERRERO)

Málaga (Spain) (AFP) - Just days before Spain's general election, the palm-tree lined streets of the centre of Malaga are almost devoid of posters.

The southern city, like others across Spain, has banned political advertisements for the April 28 polls from the routes of the hundreds of Easter processions featuring penitents in cone-shaped hoods that take place round-the-clock in the during Holy Week.

For the first time in Spain's modern history the two-week official campaign period coincides with Holy Week, and the timing has complicated candidates' final push to connect with voters.

"There is a massive displacement of people to the coast, to the countryside. This clearly makes it hard for parties to get their message out. In reality the campaign will last one week, not two," political analyst Manuel Mostaza at consulting firm Atrevia told AFP.

Parties have agreed not to hold rallies during processions and will instead hold their biggest events on the final days of the campaign.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists have focused their attention during Holy Week on places such as Catalonia and the northern Basque Country which do not have a strong tradition of Easter parades.

But the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) has accused Sanchez of "disrespecting" Spain's religious traditions with the timing of the snap polls and its leaders have attended several processions.

"We are going to uphold our traditions, to celebrate Easter week the way it should," PP secretary general Teadoro Garcia Egea said before the campaign officially kicked off on April 12 as Holy Week began.

- 'Unwritten rule' -

Their presence at the parades has not always been cheered. PP leader Pablo Casado faced criticism after he took part in a procession as a hooded penitent last Saturday in the central city of Avila.

Some locals accused him on Twitter of "posturing" after pictures emerged of Casado walking in the streets before the start of the parade with the hood of his purple robe dangling around his neck instead of covering his face.

Local online news site Avilared said Casado had "broken an unwritten rule" that penitents must keep their hood on at all times outside church.

Casado and the leader of far-right party Vox, Santiago Abascal, had planned to attend one of Spain's most famous processions in Malaga on Thursday which features hundreds of Spanish legionnaires.

But last week, the Mena brotherhood which organises the parade, asked politicians to stay away and not "mix politics and religion" -- a move many locals agreed with.

"That type of opportunism would be looked down upon. For us these days are sacred," said Angel Lazaro, a 44-year-old civil servant, as he watched the legionnaires arrive at a Malaga church before the start of the procession.

- 'Invisible' campaign -

Thousands of people lined the streets of Malaga on Thursday evening to watch as legionnaires with their tasselled caps and open-necked pastel uniforms accompanied a 180-kilo (400-pound) crucifix figure while it made its way around the coastal city.

The parade, which lasted over seven hours, is one of 42 that will be held in Malaga this Holy Week.

Around 61,500 people are expected to take part in the processions, which are estimated to draw over 400,000 spectators.

Local newspapers often dedicate more pages to the parades than the campaign and most dailes will not publish paper editions on Saturday because of the holidays.

Like many local people, Carmen Fernandez, a 57-year-old high school teacher, said she watches several parades each year.

"As a result I have not followed very closely the campaign this time. In fact you almost don't notice it," she said.