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Five candidates contesting Spain’s election

From a media-savvy far-right nationalist to a ponytailed leftwing radical, the cast of candidates in Spain’s general election illustrates its changing political landscape.

Here is a brief portrait of the five main personalities contesting Sunday’s vote, the second in just over six months.

– Pedro Sanchez, Socialists –

Opinion polls have once again tipped the 47-year-old Socialist prime minister as the winner but without the majority he will need to govern.

The 1.90-metre-tall (6 foot, 2 inches) former basketball player is the first Spanish prime minister to speak English fluently since the country returned to democracy in the 1970s.

Three years ago, he was written off as politically dead, ousted as party chief after leading the Socialists to their worst-ever defeats in 2015 and 2016.

Just six months later, however, he unexpectedly won his old job back in a party primary election and in June 2018, he took over as premier after an ambitious play that toppled conservative PP leader Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote.

But the fragile alliance that catapulted him to power cracked in February, with the Catalan separatist lawmakers who had supported him rejected his budget, triggering fresh elections in April.

Although the Socialists won, they fell short of an absolute majority, and Sanchez was unable to form a government, forcing him to call another vote.

– Pablo Casado, PP –

In July 2018, Casado became the youngest-ever leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), taking over after Mariano Rajoy was toppled as prime minister.

Born in the northern city of Palencia to a doctor and a university professor, Casado has three brothers and two sisters.

He is married to psychologist Isabel Torres and they have two children — Paloma and Pablito.

As head of the PP, Casado, who holds a degree in law, steered the party further to the right, highlighting his opposition to abortion and euthanasia in a bid to stop losing votes to the far-right Vox.

After the PP scored its worst-ever result in the April election, Casado reformed his look, growing a full beard and adopting a much more restrained approach.

– Santiago Abascal, Vox –

A tough-talking career politician who emerged from the hardline fringe of the PP, Santiago Abascal launched Vox in 2014, and it has become the first far-right faction to make significant inroads in Spanish politics since dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975.

With an impeccably-trimmed beard and a piercing stare, the 43-year-old has become the poster boy for the resurgent far right, which made its parliamentary debut in May and looks set to chalk up significant gains in Sunday’s vote.

Raised in the Basque Country when the region was under constant threat from the ETA separatist group, Abascal has made a name for himself with his ultra-conservative proposals and untempered rants about immigrants, crime and regional separatists.

A media-savvy operator, he comes across as courteous and affable, deftly parrying difficult questions and denying charges of xenophobia by falling back on his defence of “Spaniards first”.

Party rallies often feature footage of him scaling mountains or striding manfully through forests and fields.

– Pablo Iglesias, Podemos –

The pony-tailed, 31-year-old former politics professor co-founded the radical leftwing Podemos in 2014. The party emerged out of the anti-austerity “Indignados” movement that occupied squares across Spain in 2011 at the height of the economic crisis.

Last year he put his leadership of Podemos to a grassroots vote following an outcry over his purchase of a luxury home with a swimming pool and guest house near of Madrid.

The party has been weakened by internal divisions and prominent resignations, and polls suggest it will lose seats this time around.

A huge fan of “Game of Thrones”, Iglesias defied protocol when he met Spain’s King Felipe VI for the first time, handing the monarch a box set of the Emmy award-winning series.

His partner, Irene Montero, is the party’s parliamentary spokeswoman. The couple have three children.

– Albert Rivera, Ciudadanos –

The clean-cut former water polo player made a splash when Ciudadanos was founded in 2006 in the northeastern region of Catalonia by posing naked for campaign posters.

The 39-year-old’s party entered the national parliament in 2015, pledging to wipe out the traditional left-right divide.

Rivera then streered to the right hoping to make Ciudadanos the country’s main conservative party, and now attacks Sanchez after having failed to form a coalition with him in 2016.

Polls show the party is likely to lose seats on Sunday.

Rivera has been romantically linked to Spanish pop star Malu, a niece of famous guitarist and composer Paco de Lucia. He has a young daughter from a previous relationship.