- - Thursday, December 6, 2018

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 center-left 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.”


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