2007 - 2021

Spain Comprehensively Rejects Far Right

Douglas Stuart Wilson reports from Madrid on a night of defeat for the 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.


Comments (13)

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  1. Dougie Strang says:

    Thanks for the good, clear analysis.

  2. Mike Harland says:

    Thanks for this, Douglas – one of the best analyses of the general situation of Spanish politics right now and shows how the Spanish possess far more common sense than most EU countries when it comes to seeing through the fog of post-truth and the real way forward.
    I would also add that the absolute majority of PSOE in the Senate is another great victory and Sánchez will no longer have the problem of the PP blocking progress there as they did before.
    I hope that the other Scottish media, especially the National, will now stop the hero worship of the populist right of Puigdemont and Torra as any kind of example for Scottish independence. The big vote for both the socialist ERC and PSC who wanted to use dialogue rather than antagonism in negotiation shows what the majority of Catalans really see as the right way to proceed for greater autonomy and eventual self-rule.
    Saludos desde Ronda

  3. mince'n'tatties says:

    Calming words. A balm. I just don’t buy it. Dig into the numbers. Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists won 29% of the vote. Regardless of seats won, that is not a ringing endorsement.
    The far right are in the Spanish Congress for the first time in 40 years with 24 seats out of 350 with a nowhere 10% vote, and that’s a defeat? Come on. Stuff the VOX bragging machismo, that’s a worry.
    Sorry Douglas, Santiago Abascal is dancing the Fandango. ‘The Spanish people have spoken and want more dialogue with Catalonia’. Anyone ask the Catalonians about this happy dialogue?
    Of course not. Absolutely nothing decided [Brexit shudders]. Watch this space . Another G.E. within 18 months after yet another failed coalition. A creeping growth of the far right guaranteed, particularly in Andalucia where illegal immigration is deemed out of control. Outside the Madrid cosseted political bubble there is no settlement. Plenty of disaffection though.
    I do not envisage sunny uplands from this election result, but I’ll be happy to be proved wrong.

  4. Derek Henry says:

    The Catalans don’t want to ditch the Euro neither does Pedro Sanchez. So they have no real power whatsoever. The only power they have is in their minds good luck trying to get around the rules in the treaties. Both the financial markets, the bond holders and the ECB will show them both who is the real boss and being them to their knees.

    Portugal has been held out by the Europhile Left as a demonstration of how progressive policies can manifest in the European Union, even with the Fiscal Compact and the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP). In 2015, after the new Socialist government took over with supply guarantees from the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and The Greens (Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes”), it set about challenging the austerity mindset that has blanketed the European continent in stagnation. Things improved in 2016 with increased government spending. But by 2017, the European Commission had reasserted its austerity mindset and the supposed flexibility that the Left were hoping and which Portugal had briefly embraced in 2016 was gone.

    We all learned that the neoliberal bias of the Eurozone and its fiscal rules dominates any progressive ambitions that a nation state might entertain. Another blow for the Europhile Left. The lesson: start looking at and supporting exit if you are truly serious about restoring a progressive policy agenda in Europe.

    After an initial period of ‘flexibility’ in fiscal policy, the experiment has demonstrated that the hard austerity bias embedded in the Eurozone’s fiscal rules dominate and the “alternative nature of the macroeconomic policy” in Portugal began to dissipate in 2017 as the Government became focused once again, under pressure from Brussels, on “reducing public debt”. Destroying Portuguese household and business ” savings” for no reason whatsoever.

    The lesson is that the limited flexibility within the Eurozone rules is not sufficient to sustain improvements in household income and “improve public services quality and public infrastructure within the context of European budgetary rules”. Which means that Brussels, not national governments, ultimately determine the quality and scope of public service delivery in “health, education, social services, and transport” because the European-level technocratic fiscal rules compromise any meaningful autonomy at the democratic level of elected governments.

    And so the Europhile Left’s love affair with Portugal as a beacon of hope fades into the morass of Brussels-led repression. So will Pedro Sanchez he will have to surrender. Only thing that might save him is if the Portuguese sart wearing some yellow jackets and start hitting the streets.

    What will probably happen is Brussels will apply so much pressure and Wall Street, The city of London and Frankfurt will play with the bond markets until Sanchez fragile coalition that he has to form collapses. A technocrat will be wheeled in as a replacement that either Worked for JP Morgan or Morgan Stanley and preach like a sermon from the mount that Brussels is god and rules need to be followed.

    It’s happend all before many times over and this time will be no different unless the Portuguese people realise they have to leave the Euro and go back to their own currency. Put on yellow jackets until that is fulfilled.

    1. Mike Harland says:

      Having lived through the last years of both Franco and Salazar, I think both countries have seen it all before and remember what US capitalist domination and manipulation was all about. The Portuguese I have lived and worked with for over 45 years would not agree with your vision.

      This domesday scenario of neocapitalist scaremongering to balkanise Europe and enable US oligarchs to enlarge their hegemony of the West would wreak much greater austerity and rule by the 1% than anything the EU is doing to maintain some sort of interstate order in a world where exceptionalism, nationalism, isolationism and authoritarianism would be the biggest winners in what you seem to advocate as the future.

      Better the devil you know and have a chance of fighting.

  5. Derek Henry says:

    The flexibility experiment in Portugal failed. The same will happen to Spain it is a faux power Pedro Sanchez has. He’ll soon realise the reality of situation like all leftists in neoliberal globalist Europe before him. He will be brought to heel like a little puppy.

    Jean Luc Melenchon in France is the only lefty throughout Europe who recognises this and is prepared to put leaving the Euro in his manifesto before Le Pen does it for him. France will save the faux progressive left all across Europe from themselves.

    You’ll see !

  6. Jo says:

    Thanks Douglas. I shall have to read this another couple of times but, even on first reading, I found it helpful.

  7. Derek Henry says:

    Here’s an idea for one Brave Bella journalist that’s not afraid to scare the sheep. Create a table…….

    On the left hand side of the table write down the 6 tests and all the other neoliberal globalist nonsense within the growth comission.

    On the right hand side of the table write down the fiscal and monetary and competition rules and neoliberal globalist nonsense of the EU. The growth and stability pact the 2 pack, the 6 pack, the excessive debt proceedure and the corrective arm etc….

    Call the piece spot the difference ! The person who can find one difference can win a fortnights holiday in Rutherglen. Tim Rideout could write it and then he can go on to write how he plans to stop the right hand side of the table happening to an Indy Scotland. Considering conference barely got through a (fudge) that the SNP are going to (spin) on the currency issue by 50 odd votes.

    It will be a classic example of Labour triangulation. Whereby when you read the new plan no matter what part of the politcal spectrum you are from you can take something away from it that pleases you. Which is normally written by lawyers.

    Tim Rideout could write a bit of self reflection and bring a bit of honesty to the debate considering he knows how different monetary systems actually operate. On where an Indy Scotland is actually heading if our country wins independence, because there is nobody who is going to be able to stop this juggernaut that gains momentum as everyday passes by and nobody challenges it.

    I won’t be to blame for an Indy Scotland being stuck in an EU prison but I know fine well who will be. I’m going to play no part in it.

    Scotland is now one step closer at being at the heart of the Eurozone and nobody has even bothered to highlight the danger signs that are splatterd all over that road map. If Tim Rideout has to go back to conference to win it all over again will Tim highlight these dangers ?

    I very much doubt it.

  8. Marga says:

    Hi Douglas great summary but you somewhat misrepresent PdCat. They only lost one seat in national elections, won the regional which are different. Sánchez their main candidate was in fact in tune with ERC conciliation message, and both ERC and PdCat voted against Sanchez’ budget, bringing him down. ERC picked up Catalan tactical voting due to fear of ultra gains. TI feel you are expecting similar behavior from people outside Spain as in jail and on trial, complicated I know. Don’forget either that Puigdemont is the serving president (or was voted as such) and is in a very difficult position, his government being tried for following his instructions, in his absence, which specialist lawyers have said could not happen, but like many things in thr political trial is an anomaly. Would continue but computer giving up. Anyway, thanks for a great report and hope my observations make sense – can’t see what I’m typing.

  9. Glyn Morris says:

    Not sure that ERC are pursuing a more moderate line that Junts Pel Si , in reality they led the move to independence taking the former CiU — Convergència i Unió (Convergence and Union) – centre-right, Catalan nationalist now largely with them Junts Pel Si ,

    It appears that Bildu after years of hesitation from , the PNV, are starting to replace the latter in the same way.

    The fact that ERC and Bildu are on the left and would prefer a PSOE government to PP , does not undermine the fact that both PSOE and PP completely oppose any secession from Spain and are prepared to use draconian laws to do so.

    As four of the newly elected Catalan members of the Spanish Parliament are undergoing a show trial on trumped up charges support for the PSOE by all the Catalan and Basque Indepensistas will surly depend on the PSOE not copying the PP policy on autonomy let alone independence.

  10. Douglas says:

    Thanks for the comments everybody.

    Mike Harland is right. The Senate win by the PSOE is big news, and the first PSOE majority there since 1993.

    It is important, among other reasons, because it is the Senate which is responsible for nominating around 30% of the judges at the highest level of the Spanish judiciary, such as the Constitutional Court. Indeed, going back to the roots of the Catalan crisis, the PP filibustered Zapatero’s PSOE govt in the Senate in order to prevent progressive PSOE named judges coming through in time to take up their places on the Constitutional Court for the ruling on the Catalan Estatut (Home Rule bill) about ten years ago now.

    Rajoy and the PP did so because they knew that the conservative make-up of the Constitutional Court would rule against a number of clauses of the Catalan Estatut. Most importantly, the affirmation in the Estatut that “Catalonia is a nation” -which is where all this began, which is the nub of the whole Catalan question – as opposed to a “nationality” which is how it is described in the Spanish Constitutional. Talk about splitting hairs!!!

    Mince N Tatties: Well, it’s a classic case of the bottle being half full or half empty. Obviously, the 10% vote for Vox is anything but good news, but it’s clear by the numbers they are just recycled PP votes.

    With the recent victories of Bolnasaro, Trump and Brexit, not to mention Savini in Italy, there was real fear that Vox might get a big number like 50 seats or more and go on to form part of the next government.

    Also, the tone of the debate, the rhetoric of the three right wing parties, was deeply worrying. The Right in Spain, especially the PP, sounded much to the right of Nigel Farage, I mean some of the comments by leading PP candidates were just incredible, especially on very sensitive issues like abortion (“the neanderthals killed their deformed babies too, they chopped their heads off” that by PP Nº2 Adolfo Suarez Illana). Also, they were for perpetual direct Madrid rule in Catalonia. Remember, the first thing Pedro Sánchez did when he got into power was end direct Madrid rule there…. that would have been like tossing a lighted match into a powder-keg.

    Given the international context, I don’t think we can complain too much. The overriding sensation was one of relief and even euphoria on Sunday when the first results came in. I could hear people in my barrio cheering and shouting for joy, like it was a football match.

    In terms of what you say about Sánchez not being able to form a stable government, well there I think you are wrong. The number you need for a majority in the Spanish Parliament is 176 seats. Between Podemos and the PSOE, the Left already has 165 seat. The moderate Basque nationalists, the PNV have always said they will back a Sánchez govt, so that’s another 6 seats, taking Sánchez to 171. Then all you need are some abstentions or a few independents. Remember, Sánchez was PM – “presidente del gobierno” but effectively the PM – with just 85 seats… the big question is: will Sánchez form a coalition government with Podemos as we so many of us on the Left are hoping he will?

    Marga, if Bella will allow me the space, I will write something about Catalonia very soon. You are probably right that I am too harsh on PdCat but I confess I do not like Quim Torra or PdCat. I have a lot more respect for Esquera Republicana and Oriol Junqueras who is a decent man, and politically much much more steadfast and coherent. I would describe the PdCAT’s political strategy on independence as one long act of political improvisation….but more on that later.

    Finally, a correction: the Basque independence party won 4 seats, not 5 as I say in my article.


    1. mince'n'tatties says:

      An excellent analytical summary Douglas. Speaking only for myself I found it a wee bit less inhibited and rather more punchy than your main article. Take that as a compliment. Made for thought.
      Allow me to wish you all the best.

  11. Douglas Hamilton says:

    In general an excellent analysis although, as someone reminded me, the ERC also voted against Sánchez’s national budget, not just the PDeCAT, the issue which subsequently led to the general election. It’s true, however, that the ERC has probably been more moderate both before and after the election.

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