On April 28, 36 million Spanish voters will have the opportunity to decide whether Spain joins Italy, Hungary, and Austria by electing a far-right government or continues to be, together with Portugal, the European socialist exception. Although Pedro Sanchez, prime minister and leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE), is leading in the polls, if he does win, he will have to enter into a coalition with other parties to form a government.
While the leftist Podemos (“We Can”, running as Unidas Podemos) and the National Basque Party will probably join such a coalition, it’s unlikely that the two main pro-independence Catalan parties – the Catalan Republican Left and Catalan European Democratic Party – would support the PSOE this time.
Although Sanchez had taken a more conciliatory approach to the Catalan question in order to secure the political support of Catalan parties for his minority government, he ultimately rejected demands to negotiate on Catalan self-determination and the imprisonment and trial of several Catalan leaders who led the unauthorised referendum and unilateral declaration of independence in 2017.
It was the refusal of the two pro-independence Catalan parties to back the proposed national budget that forced the Spanish prime minister to call for snap elections in February.
Yet, the situation is quite fluid and the outcome of the election remains uncertain. The latest polls show that approximately 28 percent of voters are still undecided, while the rest of the vote is fragmented between various parties to the left and right of the political spectrum.
Unlike France and Germany, where liberal centrist parties and coalitions run the country, in Spain, the centre has almost disappeared, creating uncertainty and confusion among voters.
After the emergence in 2016 of left-wing Podemos and its right-wing counterpart, Ciudadanos (“Citizens Party”), the Spanish electoral map ceased to be defined by the dominance of the centre-left PSOE and the centre-right Popular Party (PP). Then in 2018, the unexpected success of Vox, a racist, homophobic, and anti-immigration party, in the Andalusian regional elections shook Spanish politics and caused the right and the left to further radicalise their rhetoric and move further away from the centre.
While this radicalisation has been welcomed by most left and right-wing voters, tired of their parties’ bipartisan positions, it has worried the moderate section of the electorate, which likely constitutes the majority of the undecided 28 percent.
Vox will certainly play a major role in the outcome of the April 28 election. After its electoral success in Andalusia, the far-right party became part of the governing coalition – along with the PP and Ciudadanos – in a region that had been under socialist rule for more than three decades. There are fears now that these three parties have a chance of winning the national election as well. The polls currently show that around 12.5 percent of the vote will go to Vox, 17.8 percent to PP and 19 percent to Ciudadanos. In total, this accounts for fewer seats (156) than what the PSOE and Podemos are currently estimated to get (162).
However, the absence of support from smaller regional parties could preclude the formation of a leftist government, in which case the mandate might be passed onto the right. This would ultimately bring Vox’s toxic nationalistic politics into government.
Founded in 2013 by Santiago Abascal, a former protege of ex-PP leader Jose Maria Aznar, Vox gained momentum in the past few years, as economic uncertainty, high unemployment rates and high levels of immigration have worried many Spanish citizens and added to nationalistic fervour fuelled by the Catalan crisis and the controversial exhumation of fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s remains.
Vox has captured this increasing anxiety by resorting to ultranationalist rhetoric. Its functionaries have claimed that the cultural, linguistic and religious identity of Spain is under threat by “Muslim immigration”. As Javier Ortega Smith, Abascal‘s number two official, has said, “Our common enemy, the enemy of Europe, the enemy of progress, the enemy of democracy, the enemy of family, the enemy of life, the enemy of the future is called the Islamist invasion.”
It should not come as a surprise that Vox wants to repeal Article 510.1 of the Criminal Code, which sets out prison sentences for those found guilty of publicly inciting hate, close regional public-television channels, and build an “insurmountable wall” in the Spanish exclave cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern coast of Africa.
Vox has also lashed out at the growing feminist movement in Spain. In recent years, Spanish women have protested against shocking levels of domestic violence and continuous underpayment of female labour (women’s hourly earnings are still 14.9 percent lower than men’s). The far-right party has identified women’s rights activism as a threat and claimed that the “gender ideology” it supposedly promotes goes against Spain’s heteronormative, Christian, and white family values.
Regardless of the outcome of the April 28 vote, this electoral season has given Abascal the unique opportunity to show that only his party puts “los espanoles primero”, that is, “Spaniards first”. He has portrayed the PP and Ciudadanos as “moderate, soft, and cowards” and Sanchez and Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, as “enemies of Spain”.
The decision of Spain’s election committee to exclude Vox from the two televised debates at the beginning of the week has backfired and will likely give the party a boost at the polls.
Even if Sanchez and Iglesias are able to attract some of the 28 percent undecided voters and manage to keep yet another European country from falling into the hands of a right-wing coalition, what is abundantly clear is that the far right, which mourns past dictatorships and yearns for authoritarian powers, is here to stay in Spanish electoral politics.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.