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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Spain far-right party set to gain first parliamentary seat in Andalusia

Sunday’s election could see Vox entering the Andalusian parliament as European elections loom closer

People attend a campaign meeting of Spain's far-right party VOX in Granada. AFP
People attend a campaign meeting of Spain's far-right party VOX in Granada. AFP

The upcoming elections in Andalusia may draw Spain closer to the continent's growing populist and anti-European league, only a year and a half before the ruling socialist party faces a new general election.

The far-right VOX party, whose approval ratings have peaked at seven percent in the run-up to the December 2 elections, might for the first time ever gain a foothold in the Andalusian Parliament and inspire other movements to shift further to the right.

The vote has been regarded as strategically crucial in the Spanish political bearpit.

The centre-left PSOE party, which has had Spain’s most populous region as its stronghold for the past 40 years, is expected to achieve a big enough majority to form a new government. But the increased polarisation and multi-party system in Spanish politics means that the country’s increasingly crowded political right could make significant gains.

The socialist party was forced to strike a stability pact with the liberal right-wing Ciudadanos in 2015, in the aftermath of a major corruption scandal involving two former Andalusian presidents that partly eroded PSOE’s popular base.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called for the regional election when the pact collapsed in September. Now Mr Sanchez, who took office in June with the smallest parliamentary party minority since Spain returned to democracy, faces a vote that will gauge the people’s confidence in his party and set the mood for the 2020 national election.

Ciudadanos aims to make big gains and overtake the Christian-democratic People’s Party (PP), break the PSOE-PP domination in Andalusia. The latest polls see the two parties head-to-head, with Ciudadanos at 19 per cent and PP at 22.

The far-right party Vox, which is driven by the nostalgia for Francisco Franco’s fascist dictatorship, now might for the first time ever gain a seat in Andalusian parliament and may make it to the European parliament following elections next May, joining the national-conservative ECR group or the right-wing ENF group.

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The group’s sudden success grabbed the headlines and drew claims that it is dragging both the PP and Ciudadanos further to the right. Mr Sánchez, among others, warned that the two parties – whom it will depend upon to govern – have “abandoned moderation” and are drifting towards the far right.

Spain has so far been a rare exception on the European continent for its relative lack of far-right or Eurosceptic movements – a striking record given that Spain’s southern region has one of the highest unemployment rates in the EU and is the destination for thousands of Africans who enter Spain by sea.

Socialists have taken a soft approach on illegal migrants and have taken in rescue boats turned away by other European countries. Both the conservative People’s Party (PP) and Vox have seized on these moves to step up their rhetoric against illegal migration.

Vox adopted the hard-line approach, framing its political message around the need to defend the Spanish nation from Catalan and Basque nationalists, as well as from immigrants and the EU.

Steve Bannon, the controversial former adviser to US President Donald Trump and founder of a movement to promote economic nationalism and right-wing populism in Europe, publicly endorsed the party. “It is very important that in Spain there is a party based on the sovereignty and identity of the Spanish people, and that is ready to defend its borders,” he said earlier this year as he met Rafael Bardají, a strategist for Vox.

Mr Bardají then asked Mr Bannon for advice on how to conduct communicate effectively through alternative media and social networks, according to local media reports.

On 7 October 2018, the party released a proposal titled “100 measures to keep Spain alive” which follows the footsteps of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy.

The document advocates the repatriation of immigrants who have illegally entered Spain and the institution of a permanent ban to prevent them from re-entering the country, as well as conditioning development aid on countries’ acceptance of repatriated immigrants with criminal records and reinforcing of the barriers that seal off Spain’s north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from the rest of the continent.

The party calls for suspending the Schengen Agreement until German or Belgian courts are prevented from blocking European arrest warrants for secessionist leaders, as well as strengthening the armed forces to make Spain less reliant on the bloc.

While Andalusia traditionally leans to the left, polls show that VOX’s uncompromising message has found some fertile ground. A general election is due in 2020, but it could be pushed forward if Mr Sanchez’s minority government fails to last the term.