The right-wing Vox party is shaking up Spanish politics. After entering parliament for the first time in April it went on to double its support in Nov. 10 elections and is now the third-biggest party in the country. Two factors have played into Vox’s recent surge: the outbreak of violent protests in Catalonia over the jailing of former separatist leaders and the decision by acting Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to exhume the body of the former dictator Francisco Franco.

1. Has populism come to Spain?

Actually, Spain has had left-wing populists for a while, led by Podemos, an 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 across the country, while other languages such as Catalan, Galician and Basque should be optional in regions where they’re spoken.

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2. What does this mean for Spain’s politics?

Vox’s popularity has sharpened rivalries as the traditional parties had to adjust to a new challenge from the right. The PP has seen Vox reach out to its base of conservative voters with an appeal to traditional Spanish values. For the ruling Socialists, Vox’s rise created an opportunity to rally voters who oppose the far right. While Vox taps into some conservative values with echoes of the Franco era, the Socialist manifesto includes proposals that invoke the other side of Spain’s Civil War history: If elected, Sanchez’s party would designate a national day to remember Spaniards killed by Franco and remove any remaining symbols of the dictatorship from public places.

3. How would Vox try to change Spain?

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Its severe immigration policies include proposals to deport undocumented immigrants; close fundamentalist 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 Catalan and Basque separatist movements, Vox proposes constitutional changes to reduce the power of regional governments. Harking back to the conservative values espoused by 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. It would also step up diplomatic efforts to restore Spanish sovereignty over the British enclave of Gibraltar.

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4. What are Vox’s economic policies?

Vox wants to drastically cut public expenditure by slimming down the state and dismantling structures of regional and local government. The party also proposes big cuts in personal income taxes and those for small and medium-size businesses. Vox would also cut power bills, suppress wealth and inheritance taxes and reduce property taxes for families with children.

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5. What explains Vox’s appeal?

The party’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 previous 36 years. Vox’s tough message on immigration resonated in Spain’s southernmost region, which has borne the brunt of illegal arrivals on boats from Africa. The party’s stance on Catalonia has played well with many voters, especially as violence erupted in the wake of the jailing of former separatist leaders who had tried to engineer a break from Spain in 2017. The exhumation of Franco from his tomb in a basilica carved into a mountain outside Madrid has also mobilized Vox support. Santiago Abascal, the party’s leader, has been calling Sanchez a “profaner of tombs” in his recent television appearances.

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6. Who leads Vox?

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Abascal is 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 before the Andalusian elections riding a horse 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 Javier Ortega Smith, a former green beret who helped unfurl a giant Spanish flag from the Rock of Gibraltar.

7. Why does Vox spur talk of the Franco era?

Abascal says he’s no Francoist. Even so, 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.

To contact the reporters on this story: Charles Penty in Madrid at cpenty@bloomberg.net;Charlie Devereux in Madrid at cdevereux3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Laurence Arnold, Andy Reinhardt

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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