Pro-Europeans everywhere can rest easy with the result of the legislative elections in Spain. National-populist discourse of the far right, and those on the centre-right who believed radicalisation was key to winning, came out battered in Sunday’s elections.
The winners; a social democratic party that only a few years back appeared to fall into the oblivion of political irrelevance. A situation of “pasokization”, a reference to the disappearance of the Socialist Party of Greece (PASOK), which seemed plausible only a couple of years ago, has been averted, situating the PSOE in a comfortable 28,68%, more than 12 points on top of the Popular Party.
Socialist parties in Italy and France have almost entirely dissapeared, and in the UK, Brexit has forced the Labour Party into a state of calamity. The socialist victory in Spain, the 5th largest economy of Europe, sends a strong signal that centre-left parties are able to face the wave of ultra-right movements that threaten democracy and the foundations of the European project.
“Spain, and Spaniards, have sent a clear message to Europe and the world, that you can defeat reactionary politics, authoritarianism and regression”, declared Pedro Sánchez to a cheering crowd of followers in Madrid, gathered to celebrate the election results after a decade of decadence and defeat.
“We are transmitting two compelling messages” said Sánchez. “The first, to European social democracy, which although has a rich history, also has a bright future as it has a great present. Spain is today a good example of this. And the second, that we will form a pro-European government to strengthen, not weaken, Europe”.
A progressive and pro-European government in Spain sends a message of hope in a scenario where anti-European far-right forces are growing and threatening the stability of the block.
However, 2,677,000 Spaniards voted for Vox (up from olny 47,000 in 2017), a party whose discourse is ultra-nationalist in character, and morally backwards. They have three key objectives: to reinstate a Franco-esque regime that will put an end to independence movements that threaten to break the 'sacred' unity of the nation, to attack civil and human rights, and to play hard ball in immigration.
Their explosion into the political scene, with 10.26% of the votes and 24 members of parliament, puts an end to the “Spanish exception” and demonstrates that no one is immune to this reactionary plague. What’s more, an investigation by openDemocracy demonstrates that the network supporting Vox is coordinated with other European far-right parties and sponsored by extremists from the US and Russia.
Fragmentation is the name of the game, as it looks as if a 5 parties system plus regional minorities is here to stay for the foreseable future.
The rise of Vox occurs in the context of the Catalan crisis that has arguably weakened Spanish democracy. Santiago Abascal (leader of Vox), will undoubtedly attempt to gain further ground in the coming European elections.
Vox has been mostly centered on identity politics rather than anti-European discourse but that may be about to change. Time will reveal whether the party chooses a Euro-sceptic discourse or declares itself blatantly anti-Europe.
Beyond the rise of Vox, that has injecteted the virus of extreme right into Spanish politics, internal conflict remains rife. A solution to the Catalan crisis although more likely under the new socialist government is no guarantee. Whilst the decision of the judge regarding the charges of sedition and rebellion for having organised an illegal referendum on the 1st of October 2017 is awaited, the pro-Independence movement still wins in a traumatised Catalonia.
The crisis of the two-party system that dominated the scene for decades, has created a scenario in which it has become impossible for the mainstream PP and PSOE to gain a comfortable majority of seats. Fragmentation is the name of the game, as it looks as if a 5 parties system plus regional minorities is here to stay for the foreseable future.
The fragmentation among the right could help Pedro Sánchez to stay au-dessus de la mêlée, but polarised confrontation like that which currently exists, with three right-wing parties fighting each other to gain hegemony ,could be very damaging to him in the long term.
Another huge loser in these elections is the electoral coalition, Unidas Podemos, leaded by Pablo Iglesias, which lost 1.4 million votes and 25 seats. Although they retain the possibility of governing with the PSOE, it’s a significant blow to a project that developed with a vision to change the nature of politics but has become trapped within institutional complexities and intestine power quarrels.
The upcoming municipal elections are key to Podemos. They have held power in Madrid, Barcelona and other relevant cities and now risk loosing them all. If they manage to hold some of the emblematic forts, they may have a chance to come back with political might in the future.
The end to the “Spanish exception” has been fortunately accompanied by a backlash from the pro-
European left, that has been welcomed by progressives around the world.
But the future of Unidas Podemos now lies in ensuring the socialist government of Sánchez guarantees fiscal policies of a left-wing nature, strengthens public services, and reinforces democractic social policies and economic growth.
The end to the “Spanish exception” with the inoculation of the Vox virus has been fortunately accompanied by a backlash from the pro-European left, that has been welcomed by progressives around the world.
Spain, together with Portugal, can demonstrate that social democracy can still win. They must now focus on the problems eroding our societies today such as rising inequalities, the vulnerability of democracy, and the fight against climate change.
The results of the Spanish elections indicate that putting an end to the national-populist tsunami is still possible and Europe must not give up hope. Next stop: European elections.