Spain Comprehensively Rejects Far Right
Last night, the Spanish Left won a national General Election for the first time since 2008, and in doing so, put an end to a situation of effective stalemate in the Spanish Parliament since the general elections of December 2015, a period in which no single party has been able to command a comfortable working majority. With Pedro Sanchez’s PSOE winning 123 seats, almost double that of Pablo Casado led PP on 66, it was a handsome victory which few analysts were expecting to be so decisive.
Just as importantly, the far-right political party Vox was comprehensively defeated throughout all of Spain, in what was a night of celebration for the Left in the country’s most crucial elections for a generation, with the threat hanging in the air of a coalition government of the three right/far-right wing parties – PP, Ciudadanos and Vox – and a repeat of the formula which saw the Right recently win regional elections in Andalusia, when voters on the Left failed to turn out to cast their ballot papers on the day.
Vox, led by former PP member Santiago Abascal, had been bragging and boasting in the run up to the election about winning as many as 60 seats on the back of a “hidden vote” which dare not speak its name in the polls. In the end, though, Vox will enter the Spanish Parliament for the first time with just 24 seats and 10% of the vote and, more importantly still, as part of the opposition, not in a coalition government with Ciudadanos and the PP.
The “hidden” vote never materialised – Vox broadly achieved the numbers they had been polling – with Spanish voters comprehensively rejecting the same extremist discourse of the far right whose parties have been swept to power in Italy, Poland, and Hungary in Europe, and won victories for Bolnasaro in Brazil, Trump in the USA and Brexit in the UK.
In fact, the results last night showed the democratic savvy of the Spanish electorate overall, which has rejected the extremist positions and aggressive language of the PP and Ciudadanos too, favouring the milder, more conciliatory tone of Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias, choosing democracy and dialogue over the politics of hate and never-ending confrontation.
In Catalonia, two things of significance occurred. Firstly, among those who favour Catalan independence, the Oriol Junqueras led Esquera Republicana (Republican Left) party secured their best ever result in a Spanish General Election with 15 seats, rewarding ERC’s more moderate line, and castigating Carles Puigdemont and Quim Torra, whose Junts Pel Si platform plummeted in the polls, winning just 7 seats. It was PdCat’s decision to vote against Pedro Sánchez’s national budget earlier this year which effectively forced the General Election in the first place, something which Puigdemont and Torra will now surely regret, having lost their ascendant position as the leading Catalan independence party on the whim of bringing down a national government in Madrid.
Equally important, with both the right-wing parties, the PP and Ciudadanos, threatening to apply article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and suspend Catalan autonomy all over again, the Catalan unionist vote switched massively to Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE, whose seats rose from 7 to 12 there, with the PP dropping from 6 to 1 and Ciudadanos standing still on 5 seats. The message from the Catalan electorate, both pro-indie and unionist, seems to be loud and clear: more dialogue, and less open hostility and confrontation.
In the Basque Country too, the ultra-Spanish nationalist PP were completely wiped out, failing to win a single seat there, the first time that has happened since 1979. Basque independence Bildu party won 5 seats, with the traditional more moderate Basque nationalists, the PNV, taking another 6. Crucially, both the nationalist parties in the Basque Country, and Esquera Republicana in Catalonia, had announced they would not stand in the way of a Pedro Sánchez minority led government, promising to abstain on any vote in the Spanish parliament to form a PSOE administration.
Podemos, for its part, lost over a million votes and dropped to 42 seats, down from the 71 on the last election results of June 2016. This was only to be expected given the internal divisions which have dogged the party led by Pablo Iglesias over the last two years. The most significant of these by far was the recent shock decision of former close Iglesias ally, Iñigo Erejón, to fight Madrid’s upcoming regional elections under a different, left-wing political grouping: Más Madrid. It wasn’t just Erejón’s departure which caused headlines, it was the fact that he didn’t even inform Pablo Iglesias of his decision before announcing his candidacy for the new, ad-hoc platform to the press, something which caused deep misgivings among the Podemos rank and file.
But Pablo Iglesias – widely recognized in Spain as the best orator and debater of the main national parties – fought a fine campaign and achieved a respectable 42 seats in the Spanish Congreso de Diputados for the party whose trademark colour is the purple which will always be associated with the Second Republic Franco’s fascist troops so cruelly overthrew. Crucially, the Podemos vote will ensure Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE government doesn’t feel tempted to tack to the Right over the next four years.
But the big losers of the night were the PP, led by Pablo Casado, and Ciudadanos, led by Albert Rivera. Ciudadanos, which was founded in Catalonia as a unionist reaction to the upsurge of the independence movement there, had made the strategic decision to abandon the centrist ground it had originally claimed as its own and instead to fight for the leadership of the Spanish right-wing. This strategy backfired spectacularly, with the corruption-wracked PP still winning more seats (66) than Ciudadanos, which rose from 32 to 57 members of parliament, but still fell a very long way short of a decisive breakthrough.
For Pablo Casado and the PP, the election results were the worst in the party’s history bar none. Guided behind the scenes by former PM and right-wing ideologue Jose María Aznar, Casado opted for a hard line discourse which was indistinguishable from that of the Falange backed Vox, advocating the toughest of stances on Catalonia, abortion rights and failing to make any acknowledgement, much less offer an apology, for the numerous corruption cases which completely discredited the PP government of 2011-2018 and forced Mariano Rajoy out of power. Casado’s future looks all but over, though his departure looks unlikely to be imminent with local and European elections due to take place in just a few weeks.
The Spanish people have spoken, and they have made a clear call for greater social justice, a progressive social agenda and dialogue in Catalonia, reaffirming once again the pluri-national nature of Spain, a State of nations as much as it is a nation State.
In doing so, it is to be hoped that these elections results might too have turned the tide on the politics of xenophobia, hate and misogyny which has won so much currency in European democracies over recent years, and serve as an example to other European voters across the continent to turn their backs on the bankrupt right-wing populist politics of Europe’s darkest, most nihilistic past.