In So­cial­ist bas­tion, Span­ish far right scores a break­through.

Vox seats to shift power bal­ance in leg­is­la­ture

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARTIN AROSTEGUI

MADRID | It’s as if Don­ald Trump car­ried Cal­i­for­nia or Nancy Pelosi were elected gover­nor of Texas.

That’s the scale of the po­lit­i­cal earth­quake Span­ish vot­ers de­liv­ered in Sun­day’s elec­tions, where the fledg­ling Vox party be­came the first far-right party to win seats in a re­gional elec­tion in Spain in decades. Even more re­mark­able is where the break­through came: in the south­ern re­gion of An­dalu­sia, a left­ist bas­tion that has been con­trolled by Spain’s So­cial­ist Party for more than 35 years.

The 5-year-old Vox party de­fied con­ven­tional wis­dom and pre-vote polls. Ex­pected to win per­haps two or three seats in the re­gional leg­is­la­ture, Vox cap­tured 12 of the 109 par­lia­men­tary seats, set­ting it­self up as a po­ten­tial king­maker.

Representatives for the cen­ter-right Pop­u­lar Party in An­dalu­sia, which lost votes to Vox, said the group would be in­vited to join a new coali­tion gov­ern­ment — a par­tic­u­larly ironic de­vel­op­ment given that Vox got its start in 2013 pri­mar­ily with de­fec­tors from the PP and other main­stream con­ser­va­tive par­ties.

Spain had been seen as a bit of an out­lier in the Euro­pean Union, where con­ser­va­tive, anti-im­mi­grant, euroskep­tic par­ties in re­cent years have trans­formed the po­lit­i­cal de­bate on the con­ti­nent, — not just in newer EU mem­bers from East­ern Europe but in pil­lars of the post­war Euro­pean or­der such as France, Italy, Ger­many and Bri­tain. But with a ris­ing back­lash to il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion from north­ern Africa, Spain may be mak­ing up for lost time.

Vox leader San­ti­ago Abas­cal pre­dicted in an in­ter­view that his move­ment against “so­cial­ist cor­rup­tion” will keep gain­ing mo­men­tum and “move on from ex­pelling re­gional gover­nors to throw­ing out Prime Minister Pe­dro Sanchez and sep­a­ratists who are sim­i­larly build­ing up bu­reau­cra­cies in other re­gions.”

One quick mes­sage of con­grat­u­la­tion came from French far-right leader Ma­rine Le Pen, who praised Mr. Abas­cal via Twit­ter for a “very sig­nif­i­cant re­sult for a young and dy­namic move­ment.”

Mr. Abas­cal’s strong anti-im­mi­gra­tion stand also struck a chord in An­dalu­sia, which has be­come the main land­ing point for grow­ing waves of im­mi­grants sail­ing across the nar­row Strait of Gi­bral­tar from Africa. His pledges to quash the in­de­pen­dence move­ment in Cat­alo­nia — whose re­sources go to­ward sub­si­diz­ing Spain’s poorer re­gions — also gained him cross-party sup­port.

“While polls an­tic­i­pated gains by Vox, these re­sults have ex­ceeded all ex­pec­ta­tions by wide mar­gins,” said Ig­na­cio Ju­rado, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of York. “Vox be­comes for the first time a par­lia­men­tary force in Spain.”

More re­stric­tive im­mi­gra­tion is a key­stone is­sue, but the Vox agenda also in­cludes crack­ing down on sep­a­ratist par­ties, cut­ting taxes and boost­ing so­cial con­ser­va­tive causes such as re­strict­ing abor­tion.

Vis­ceral re­ac­tion

The es­tab­lish­ment re­ac­tion to Sun­day’s vote has been vis­ceral. Mr. Sanchez de­clared that he would “con­tinue de­fend­ing the con­sti­tu­tion against fear” as long-faced news an­chors an­nounced the “erup­tion” of the “ex­treme right.”

Vice Pres­i­dent Car­men Calvo ac­cused Vox of seek­ing to “dis­mount 40 years of democ­racy” — the en­tire pe­riod since the death of Fran­cisco Franco in 1975.

At the other end of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, far-left leader Pablo Igle­sias, who was hop­ing to form a coali­tion gov­ern­ment in An­dalu­sia be­tween his United We Can Party and the weak­ened cen­ter­left par­ties, called for an “anti-fas­cist mo­bi­liza­tion.” But Sun­day’s re­sults showed that sup­port for United We Can had de­clined.

Stu­dent pro­test­ers took to the streets of the re­gional cap­i­tal of Seville and other cities, chant­ing, “Death to Vox.” One protest leader used a bull­horn to broad­cast his in­ten­tion to “block fas­cists” from tak­ing their seats in the par­lia­ment.

Speak­ing to his own sup­port­ers, Mr. Abas­cal said he would hold Mr. Igle­sias per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for any vi­o­lence com­mit­ted by what the Vox leader called his “com­mu­nist hordes.”

Reper­cus­sions from the An­dalu­sian vote have been felt strongly in Barcelona, which has been con­sumed by a bat­tle pit­ting the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Madrid against a pow­er­ful se­ces­sion­ist move­ment. Pro-in­de­pen­dence groups con­trol­ling Cat­alo­nia’s re­gional ad­min­is­tra­tion met in a spe­cial ses­sion to an­a­lyze the ef­fects that the Vox vic­tory could have in their re­gion, a lo­cal of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Mr. Abas­cal has said he ex­pects to make more head­way in fu­ture Cata­lan elec­tions and will tar­get union and work­ing-class vot­ers who are los­ing faith in the abil­ity of main­stream par­ties to con­tain the sep­a­ratist move­ment.

“If Vox gets into the Cata­lan par­lia­ment by tak­ing votes from main­stream par­ties, the sit­u­a­tion would be­come highly rad­i­cal­ized,” said Ray­mon Blasi, a Barcelona city coun­cilor and a mem­ber of the pro-in­de­pen­dence group PDeCAT.

While some warn of a threat to Span­ish democ­racy and an un­healthy nos­tal­gia for the au­thor­i­tar­ian Franco era, Mr. Abas­cal seemed to revel in the crit­i­cism from es­tab­lish­ment voices. The brick­bats, he said, only un­der­score the grow­ing clout of his move­ment.

“You haven’t un­der­stood any­thing,” Mr. Abas­cal told ri­val party lead­ers at a news con­fer­ence af­ter Sun­day’s vote. “Ev­ery time you in­sult us, you are in­sult­ing the mil­lions of Span­ish peo­ple who lis­ten to us and iden­tify with our mes­sage.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

San­ti­ago Abas­cal, leader of the Span­ish right-wing Vox party, pre­dicted that his move­ment against “so­cial­ist cor­rup­tion” will con­tinue to gain mo­men­tum.

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