The far-right has become the third-largest political force in Spain after several decades of absence from Spain’s political scene.
It has long been assumed that Spain’s relationship with General Franco’s fascist regime served as an antidote to the far-right gaining a foothold in Spanish politics as it has across much of Europe.
Vox’s strong showing in the weekend’s election, doubling its share of parliamentary representation from 24 to 52, outstripped most analyst expectations and only underscored the party’s meteoric rise since April of this year when it contested its first election.
The Vox party, led by ultra-conservative Catholic Santiago Abascal, 43, is now the third-largest party, having emerged on the political scene only 11 months ago.
“The situation in Spain is worse now than in April,” warns Carmen Gonzalez Enriquez, Senior Analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute of International and Strategic Studies.
Spain held a general election only six months ago, and the Socialist party called another after it was unable to form a coalition.
“This was a big mistake for the Socialist party,” Enriquez said of the winners of this weekend’s election. The Socialist party won 120 seats, three less than April and 55 seats short of a majority.
“If you look at the parliamentary numbers for the Socialist government to form a majority they need nine parties to form a coalition, and even then they will have 180 seats, [in the 350-seat parliament] a working majority of only four,” Enriquez added over the phone speaking to TRT World.
Spain, over the last four decades, has benefitted from a consolidated two-party system that has oscillated between the centre-right People’s Party and the centre-left Socialist Party.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, Catalan attempts to secede from Spain, rising inequality and immigration have shaken Spanish politics which has been deftly used by Vox, providing it with clear messaging to campaign on.
The emergence of new parties on the far-left and right has resulted in the collapse of the two-party system.
When I asked Enriquez if there could be a unity government between the two major centre-left and centre-right parties, she suggested this would be difficult as it would effectively leave Vox as the main opposition party.
“People are fed up with the current politicians who are not good,” says Enriquez. “If there are new elections again any non-politician could win. Most citizens hope that politicians have the capacity not to repeat the elections.”
While the Vox party may have consolidated its presence in the Spanish parliament the impact it will have on Spanish politics remains to be seen - the parties’ new legislators will have to get used to navigating the routine horse-trading.
“Vox will also have to contend with established political forces that will likely work together to combat the party in an effort to preserve their monopoly in power and to retain or revive the two-party system that benefits them," explains Enriquez.
On the local level, however, Vox is already having an impact. Since emerging on the political scene, Vox has entered into a coalition with the People’s Party and Ciudadanos, two rightist parties, in Andalusia, Madrid and Murcia, where even though it doesn’t have many seats it does hold the balance of power.
Vox has expressed its desire to ban pro-independence parties, even though this could be challenged constitutionally. The party has also created chaos amongst right-leaning parties.
In coming out so clearly against Catalan independence and advocating a much harsher approach towards Catalonia, centrists in the People’s Party and Ciudadanos have found it challenging to maintain discipline amongst their more hardline members. Now many of them are voting for Vox.
“Spain is politically and socially divided,” says Enriquez. “While most Spanish people are against Catalonian independence, the right and the left have a different approach on how the issues should be resolved.”
“The left believes in the power of negotiations - yet their approach is not clear. Negotiate for what? Catalonia already has a large degree of autonomy anything beyond that is independence. Whereas on the right, there is a more combative attitude,” adds Enriquez.
The inability of the Spanish political class to find a solution to this knot is ultimately allowing the Vox party to gain further ground, and for that, there are no easy ways out.
This deadlock has the potential to diminish Spain’s influence in the EU just as there is a change of the guard and budget negotiations loom.
“The current political crisis will hinder Spain from advancing its budget proposals which are different from countries like Italy which has a different agenda. The strategy around EU-wide migration and our strategic relations with Morocco are also important,” says Enriquez.