Where is Spain going after the elections? A debate between the extremes and the center

Before last night’s electoral surprise, it was estimated that the conservatives of the People’s Party could turn to their allies from the political periphery to govern and that that fact would bring the first far-right party to power by Franco.

The potential rise of that far-right party, Vox, which has a nationalist spirit imbued with the ghost of Franco, it would lift Spain into the growing ranks of European nations where major conservative parties have associated themselves with forces previously taboo out of electoral necessity.

It is an important marker for a politically changing continent and a gestating moment for a country that has long struggled with the legacy of its dictatorship.

Even before Spaniards cast a single vote, the issue raised questions about where the country’s political heart really lies: whether its painful past and transition to democracy just four decades ago transformed Spain into a largely moderate, inclusive and centrist country, or if it could once again veer to the extremes.


Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox. Reuters photo

Bipartisanship

The centrist parties of the establishment – both the conservative PP and the PSOE socialists led by President Pedro Sánchez – they have long dominated the country’s politicsand most of the electorate appear to be moving away from the extremes towards the centre, experts say.

But none of Spain’s main parties has enough support to govern alone. Since neither the PP nor the PSOE won an absolute majority in the 350-seat Parliament, a policy of alliances is imperative. Vox, of the far right, is a likely partner, but not the only one because several centre-left parties are now appearing on the scene that the PSOE could join.

The irony is that even though Vox seemed on the verge of reaching the pinnacle of its power since it was founded a decade ago, its support may be dwindling as its positions against abortion rights, climate change policies and the LGBTQ community have repelled many voters.

The idea that the country is becoming more extremist is “a mirage”said Sergio del Molino, an analyst who has written extensively on Spain and its transformations.

Pedro Sanchez, leader of the PSOE and head of government of Spain.  photo by AFP
Pedro Sanchez, leader of the PSOE and head of government of Spain. photo by AFP

The election, he said, more reflected the political fragmentation of establishment parties, brought about by the radicalizing events of the 2008 financial crisis and Catalonia’s near-secession in 2017. This has now created alliances, even sometimes with parties on the political peripherythey are a necessity.

He highlighted “a gap” between the country’s political leadership, which in order to govern needed to obtain electoral support from the extremes, and a “a company that wants to return to the center again”.

José Ignacio Torreblanca, Spain’s expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the messy coalition-building process in Spain’s relatively new era of the post-two-party system has given fringe parties more influence and visibility than their actual support. “This is not a blue and red country, not at all”She said.

Others were less convinced. Paula Suárez, 29, a doctor and leftist candidate for local office in Barcelona with the Sumar coalition, said polarization in the country had been entrenched. “You have to do with the civil war, it’s a legacy. Half of Spain is on the left and half on the right.”

But those who see a predominantly centrist Spain use the same historical reference point for their argument. The traditional rejection of the Spanish electorate to extremessome experts have said, it is based precisely on his recollection of the deadly polarization of the Franco era.

Subsequently, through the shared traumas of decades of assassinations by Basque terrorists trying to break with Spain, the two main establishment parties, the PP and PSOE, carved out a political center for themselves and provided a spacious home for most voters.

But recent events have tested the strength of Spain’s immunity to calls from political extremists. Even if it is centrist, Spanish politics today, if it is not polarized, it is certainly on the fringes.

A PP corruption scandal caused Vox to split in 2013. Then, Catalonia’s near-secession in 2017 fueled nationalists at a time when populist anger against globalisation, the European Union and gender identity politics were taking off across Europe.

The financial crisis

On the other side of the spectrum, the financial crisis led to the creation of a far left in 2015, which he forced Sánchez to form a government with that group and cross a red line for him and the country.

Perhaps most importantly for this election, the PSOE has also relied on the votes of Basque groups filled with ex-terrorists, giving conservative voters the green light to become more permissive of Vox, Torreblanca said. “This is what made politics in Spain quite toxic”She said.

Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the Popular Party.  photo by AFP
Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the Popular Party. photo by AFP

After the local elections in May, which dealt a severe blow to Pedro Sánchez and prompted him to call snap elections this Sunday, the conservatives and Vox have already forged alliances across the country, confirming the fears of the liberals.

At a rally for Yolanda Díaz, the leftist Sumar candidate, an array of women spoke about maternity leave, defending abortion rights and protecting women against abuse. The crowd erupted as Diaz proclaimed: “Only if we are strong will we send Vox to the opposition”.

“The paradox now,” said analyst Torreblanca, “is that just as when the PSOE came to government with its left-wing partners weakened, the same is happening now with a PP that seemed ready to govern while social support for its eventual Vox partners appears to be dwindling.”

Source: AFP, AP and Clarin

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