Sunday

19th May 2019

Spanish socialists halt far-right 'reconquest'

  • Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez celebrating his win on Sunday (Photo: PSOE)

The Spanish left declared victory over the far-right in elections on Sunday (28 April), as their adversaries vowed to "reconquer" the country.

"We have sent a clear and powerful message from the people of Spain to Europe and the world - that it is possible to beat reactionaries and authoritarianism and regression," Pedro Sanchez, the Spanish prime minister, told supporters in Madrid.

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  • Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias (l) offered to launch coalition talks (Photo: Podemos)

"The future has won and the past has lost," he added, after his Socialist party came first, gaining 38 seats to win a total of 123 out of 350.

"We've sent out the message that we don't want to regress or reverse. We want a country that looks forwards and advances," he said.

"We will form a pro-European government to strengthen and not weaken Europe," he added.

Sanchez spoke after the far-right Vox party, which has a whiff of Spain's fascist past, entered parliament for the first time with 24 seats.

"We told you that we were going to begin a reconquering of Spain and that's what we have done," its leader, Santiago Abascal, said, referring to medieval Spain's "reconquest" of Muslim-ruled territories.

The conservative Popular Party (PP) haemorrhaged 70 seats to get just 66 deputies amid old corruption scandals.

"The result has been very bad … because the centre-right vote has fragmented," PP head Pablo Casado noted.

The centre-right Ciudadanos did better with 57 seats and said they would stay in opposition.

The far-left Unidas Podemos and their allies won 42, and offered to launch coalition talks with Sanchez.

"We have enough of a result to achieve the two goals of our campaign. First, to stop the right-wing and the far-right and secondly, to form a left-wing coalition government," its leader, Pablo Iglesias, said.

The talks "will take much time", he added, with no deal in sight before the European Parliament (EP) election in May.

"The only condition [to join his government] is to respect the constitution, move toward social justice, coexistence and political cleanliness," the Socialist leader, Sanchez, also said.

But even if there was a deal, the left-wing bloc would still fall 11 seats short of a majority.

It would need to rely on the votes or abstentions of regional parties, such as those of Basque nationalists or Catalan separatists, in order to govern, and if that failed, the elections might have to be repeated.

The election campaign was dominated by Spanish national identity, instead of migration or the economy, despite soaring unemployment.

It came in the wake of Catalonia's failed bid for independence in 2017, in events which continued to cause ripples in Spanish politics.

Five Catalan separatist leaders who are currently in prison in Madrid won seats in parliament on Sunday.

Minor incidents at polling stations in Barcelona between local people and anti-independence Ciudadanos and PP candidates also showed that nerves remained raw.

With the EP elections around the corner, it remains to be seen how Vox's "reconquest" proceeds.

The party, which opposes Catalan independence, migrants, and same-sex marriage, harks back to the values of the former fascist regime of Francisco Franco in the 1970s.

"The main difference between Vox and the rest of the European far-right is that it is not eurosceptic and is only xenophobic in small measure," Enrique Gil Calvo, a politics professor at Madrid Complutense University, told EUobserver, however.

"Why? Like every populist party, Vox needs an 'enemy of the people' to blame for all evils. Outside of Spain, this 'enemy' is double: Brussels [the EU] and immigrants. But within Spain, the enemy is Catalan separatism: it is 'catalanophobia'," Gil Calvo explained.

Meanwhile, even if Vox's mass rallies did not translate into a bigger result on Sunday, its rhetoric has altered the political tone.

The Spanish elections were held in a "climate of exacerbated populism that deafened the electoral debate", Gil Calvo noted.

Vox might have a different agenda to other EU far-right parties, but extremist demagoguery has "the same effect as in the rest of Europe," the Spanish academic said.

Opinion

Catalan independence trial is widening Spain's divides

What is really needed is not the theatre of a rebellion trial, but a forensic examination of whether public funds were misused, and a process of dialogue and negotiation on how the Catalan peoples' right to self-determination can be satisfied.

Timmermans calls for left-wing coalition at debate

The centre-right's Manfred Weber got most of the heat at the EU Commission presidential candidates' final debate before the European elections, while Frans Timmermans reached out to a possible coalition partners - piling more pressure on Weber's EPP.

Analysis

As candidates debate, more names surface for EU top jobs

Candidates from EU political families clash at the closely-watched debate in the European Parliament - but the elections themselves, plus lukewarm support from heads of government, could upend previous calculations.

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