A new nationalist party, Vox, is shaking up Spanish politics. It’s entering parliament for the first time, with 24 seats, following a national campaign in which the traditional conservatives of the People’s Party had their worst-ever showing. The party is now poised to become part of the parliamentary opposition to Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has welcomed Vox’s emergence, and its leadership is in touch with Donald Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon.
1. Has populism come to Spain?
Actually, Spain has had left-wing populists for a while, led by Podemos, the anti-establishment, anti-austerity party that grew out of street demonstrations against politicians and banks and exploded onto Spain’s political scene in 2014. Vox is more like the recent populist movements in Poland, Hungary and Italy. Founded in 2014 by former members of the conservative People’s Party, it might be described as populism with a Castilian twist: It opposes Catalan separatism, defends bullfighting, wants the Spanish flag flown on all public buildings and advocates enforcing the use of Spanish in areas of Spain where other languages are spoken, such as Catalonia.
2. What does this mean for Spain’s politics?
Vox’s capture of 24 seats in the Spanish parliament, though well below expectations, sharpened rivalries as the traditional parties now must adjust to the new challenge from the right. Vox is reaching out to PP voters with an appeal to traditional Spanish values. For Socialists, Vox has created an opportunity to rally voters who oppose the far right.
3. How would Vox try to change Spain?
Its severe immigration policies include proposals to deport undocumented immigrants and ban them for life; put limits on the construction of mosques; ban teaching of Islam in state schools; and erect walls in the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Africa. As part of its opposition to separatist movements in Catalonia and the Basque country, Vox proposes changing the constitution to reduce the power of regional governments. It would cut income and corporate taxes. Harking back to the conservative values espoused by the late dictator Francisco Franco, the party would forbid public hospitals from carrying out abortions or sex changes. Vox doesn’t advocate Spain leaving the European Union but calls for changes in EU governance.
4. What explains Vox’s emergence?
Vox’s first shock to the establishment came in December, when it made an unexpectedly strong showing in regional elections in Andalusia, a Socialist stronghold for the past 36 years. Its tough message on immigration resonated in Spain’s southernmost region, which has borne the brunt of illegal arrivals on boats from Africa across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar. There was a surge in migration to Europe via Spain in 2018 due to a border clampdown by Italy’s new government. Vox’s opposition to Catalan separatists’ 2017 push for independence in the region that includes Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, also went down well in Andalusia. So many Andalusians -- an estimated 1 million -- moved to Catalonia in the 1960s in search of economic opportunity that Catalonia is popularly known as Andalusia’s “ninth province.”
5. Who leads Vox?
Its president is Santiago Abascal, a politician from the Basque country who served in its regional parliament for the PP from 2004 to 2009 before quitting the party in 2013. A motorcyclist, bird watcher and horseman, he was shown in Vox political ads on Facebook riding through the Andalusian countryside to the theme of “Lord of the Rings” as he began his “reconquest” of the region. (Actor Viggo Mortensen has objected to Vox’s continuing allusions to the movie.) Other prominent members include Jose Antonio Ortega Lara, a former prison worker who was kidnapped by the Basque terror group ETA for 532 days from 1996 to 1997 and Javier Ortega Smith, a former green beret who helped unfurl a giant Spanish flag from the Rock of Gibraltar.
6. Why does Vox spur talk of the Franco era?
Vox’s description of its campaign in Andalusia as a “reconquest” drew on old tropes about the victory of Catholic Spain over the Moors that the Franco regime used in its propaganda. Franco, the fascist dictator who died in 1975, claimed to be a champion of traditional values and Vox’s policies on social issues such as the role of the family appeal to Catholic voters. Franco himself was tapping into older currents of conservative Spanish thinking with his embrace of anti-liberalism and Catholic doctrine.
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