Is a New Style of Politics Coming to Spain?
Only time will tell if Vox’s rise is borne of disappointment with the country’s political process, or whether there is a real solidarity with the movement’s ideological principles.
In recent years, Spain’s political system has gone through a number of convulsions. The traditional alternation in government between the conservative People’s Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE), along with the continuous cases of corruption that affected both of them, successfully planted and nurtured the seed of disappointment among a large sector of Spanish society. The situation reached its peak when disaffected citizens decided to take to the streets in what became the origin of the so-called Los Indignados, also known as the 15-M Movement.
This socio-political movement was the root of the far-left populist political party Podemos, founded in March 2014. Inspired by other populist parties of far-left orientation, such as that of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela or Evo Morales in Bolivia, they claimed to be the inheritors of the real spirit of the left and were willing to implement a genuine leftist agenda totally abandoned, in their point of view, by the Socialist Party — and, to certain extent, by the Communist Party — who had betrayed their voters.
Podemos brought a new style of politics and a new lexicon to the Spanish political scene that quickly seeped into the daily vocabulary of thousands of Spaniards, especially the younger generation. Words such as casta (caste), revolución Bolivariana (Bolivarian Revolution), bloque (block) or el régimen del 78 (regime of ‘78) have never been so frequently heard in parliament or during election campaigns.
Surprisingly, Podemos got five members into the European Parliament just two months after its launch. A big percentage of first-time voters and plenty of young people saw in this group of political-science lecturers in their thirties the reincarnation of cultivated rebels ready to fight for (and hopefully win) a fairer and more egalitarian society. But Podemos was not alien to the longing for freedom by its members, and the internal divisions appeared immediately. The departure of some of the founding members, such as Pablo Echenique or Carolina Bescansa, and the explicit antagonism between its president, Pablo Iglesias, and vice president, Iñigo Errejón, soon weakened the movement.
Changing the Status Quo
While Podemos was faltering, Spain’s ruling People’s Party was also being deteriorated by scandals of corruption affecting some of its most prominent members (Rodrigo Rato, Luis Bárcenas or Cristina Cifuentes to name but a few) that eroded the confidence of the electorate and wore away the authority of President Mariano Rajoy. The corruption cases brought against the president provided the perfect opportunity for the Socialist Party to oust Rajoy after he lost a no-confidence vote in parliament in June 2018, followed by his subsequent resignation as the president of the PP. With the Socialist Party’s ascension to power and the orphaned state of the Spanish right wing, another minority political force acquired a more prominent role: Vox.
Vox was founded in December 2013 by former members of the Popular Party who were mostly disappointed with party policy in relation to the state of autonomies, the way PP dealt with the Basque terrorist organization ETA, and its internal fiscal policy. They contested the 2014 elections but failed to win seats. Until the fall of 2017, Vox was still a marginal party, but after the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and, above all, after the issue of Catalonia’s independence, the number of members increased by 20% in just 40 days.
Vox also brought a set of words not used in the Spanish politics before: Reconquista (reconquest) — historically used to refer to the expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain by the Catholic Kings — and the constant refrain of phrases like la unidad de España (unity of Spain) and España, lo primero (Spain, First). It follows the trail of Europe’s radical-right parties and incorporates in its political agenda the rhetoric and discourse of its European colleagues, specially in relation to immigration policy (migrants will be admitted according to economic needs and their ability to adapt to Spanish customs, culture and way of living, with a clear preference to South American immigrants over Muslims); women’s rights (the right to free abortion should be suppressed); the modification of the law on violence against women; or the status of the LGTBQ community (ban on gay marriage and possibility to adopt children).
Stunned and Divided
This new style of politics was explicitly displayed since last autumn, but especially during the political campaign in last year’s Andalucian elections. The vote, which took place on December 2, saw Vox historically win 12 seats in parliament — something no other party running for the first time has ever achieved, putting in danger 36 years of Socialist hegemony and becoming the first far-right party to win such a margin of popular support in Spain’s post-Franco era.
Vox’s election triumph shocked and radically divided Andalucia: Supporters are exultant about this historic result, while others are astonished to see the decline of nearly four decades of Socialist rule. In some Andalucian cities, citizens quickly organized demonstrations to protest the possibility of Vox becoming part of the ruling coalition in the region. In Granada, thousands of voters, mainly university students, took to the streets to express their opposition to Vox’s ideology. Just a few hours after the results were announced, students used social media to channel their fears about two main things: education grants and the role of women. Some of my colleagues working on gender studies told me they worried about losing European funding for their projects if Vox becomes part of the government.
Vox knows it now holds the key to the Andalucian government, having said on January 9 that it would support a coalition between the Popular Party and the center-right Citizens, after dropping some of its most controversial demands. Only time will tell if Vox’s rise is borne of disappointment, dissatisfaction and frustration with the country’s political process felt by the hundreds of thousands of Spaniards, or whether there is a real solidarity with the movement’s ideological principles.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.