On September 3 last year, the Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez had just announced his “Government of the people” campaign: He wanted to reconnect with ordinary people to erase his image as an aloof leader hooked on the use of the Government private jets.

He had chosen Seville, the capital of witty Andalusia and back then still a socialist stronghold, as his first stop of the tour. 

On its streets, Sánchez was taking selfies with some socialist sympathisers when the cameras caught, three metres behind him, a middle-aged, bearded man with a loud green whistle holding up a sign with the rhyming words: “Que te vote Txapote” – “Ask Txapote for his vote”. With the reference to Txapote, a convicted ETA terrorist and assassin of at least three Spanish politicians, this anonymous citizen was reproaching Sánchez the support that his government has been receiving from EH Bildu, the party that has, under different names, been the political arm of ETA. Sánchez himself recently offered his condolences in Parliament to EH Bildu when an ETA inmate committed suicide. 

Sánchez’s campaign to rekindle his relationship with ordinary citizens was cancelled shortly after his visit to Seville, as crisis-hit Spaniards across the country received the prime minister with more boos than warmth, and the “Que te vote Txapote” sign anecdote seemed to have died just as quickly.

Five months later, however, a man who was being interviewed live on Televisión Española on a completely unrelated topic, revived the phrase by repeating out of the blue those same words (together with a string of remarks that should not feature in such a respectable website as this). The clip was widely shared on social media, and the slogan has since been repeated on numerous occasions. And not only by Sánchez’s political opponents: Almost every public act of the socialist leader, in Spain or abroad, has featured some form of the phrase as an unwanted soundtrack; a wide range of “que te vote Txapote” t-shirts can be purchased online, and robotized voices repeat the slogan in night club dance sessions. 

The phenomenon reached new heights over the weekend in the Sanfermines, probably the most famous regional feast in the world, when every live TV connection with the stringers in Pamplona seemed to be crashed by uninvited cries of the slogan, and public chants of “que te vote Txapote” to the tune of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army song were bellowed by many in the public during the afternoon bull fights..

Sánchez, of course, denies the implicit accusation. He claims that ETA was defeated years ago and that the fact that EH Bildu included 44 terrorists (7 of which had been convicted for murder) in its electoral roles for the local elections in May is nothing but a sign of the triumph of democracy over terror. Further, he denies that EH Bildu’s indispensable support for many of his government’s policies responds to any secret pact with them. 

The opposition parties and a big part of the Spanish population think that a pact does in fact exist between the Socialist party and EH Bildu. Centre-right and conservative parties Partido Popular and Vox point to the recent relocation of ETA convicts (including Txapote’s girlfriend) to prisons in the Basque Country and neighbouring Navarra as the price Sánchez is paying for EH Bildu’s support, as this transfer has been a recurring vindication of the latter. Also Arnaldo Otegi, the leader of EH Bildu and himself convicted for terrorism, has asked Sánchez to “stop taking voters for fools.”

Televisión Española is now hiring private security guards to prevent “que te vote Txapote” live-connection crashers, but youngsters at the Sanfermines are likely to see that more as an attractive challenge than as a deterrent. All things considered, it is good that many people’s ill feelings towards Sánchez for having called elections in the middle of the Spanish holiday season and in the hottest weeks of the year, are channelled through these harmless, if mischievous, behaviours.

The Socialist party was severely punished in the local and regional elections on 28 May. Polls so far look similarly bad for Sánchez and the many parties that form his frankenstein governing coalition. But there is at least one thing the Spanish prime minister may look forward to on 23 July: that the “que te vote Txapote” mantra that is pursuing him everywhere will disappear the following day.

The author is editor of La Occidental, a Spanish current affairs magazine.