HE has called feminists ‘bitches’ and ‘scum’, wants to undo gay marriage and has called for a new ‘reconquista’ – which saw the violent expulsion of Jews and Muslims in Spain in the 15th century.
Yet, Andalucia’s Vox leader Francisco Serrano managed to secure an alarming 11% of the vote in the recent Andalucia elections… and picked up 12 seats in the regional parliament, as part of the deal.
The shock result – which makes Vox potentially the kingmakers in any deal to run the region – came after polls predicted the extreme right party would win just one seat.
Nationally Vox, which means ‘Voice’, would command around 10% of the vote if a general election was called tomorrow.
It is a worrying time for Spain, Europe’s most tolerant country, and unsurprisingly, it has led to column inches in the international press, while pundits have been quick to claim victory for the far-right.
France’s hard-right leader Marine Le Pen and former KKK leader David Duke were among the first to congratulate their ‘friends’ at Vox, who boast to being the only party in Spain to support US President Donald Trump.
It’s clearly a major concern for the EU project at large, but does the Vox victory represent a change in voter opinion or were there other factors at play?
Firstly we need to take into account the huge voter disillusionment with the political establishment in Andalucia.
The PSOE has been in power for 36 years since the first free election after the death of dictator Franco in the 1970s and has been plagued by some of Spain’s worst corruption scandals.
These include the appalling ERE scam, which fleeced around one billion euros for its leaders, while a fake training scheme scandal may well end up being even more.
Its main rival, the PP, meanwhile, has also been tainted by corruption on a national level, with prime minister Mariano Rajoy being ousted this year in a no confidence vote after appearing in court to answer questions on the infamous Gurtel probe.
It was probably only natural that voters would eventually tire of the corrupt status quo and turn to the newest political kid on the block.
Founded exactly five years ago, Vox was set up in response to what its leaders viewed as a weak response by the PP government to the Basque separatist group ETA.
Vox’ current leader Santiago Abascal – seen riding a horse in the recent election drive, with the catchphrase ‘the Reconquest will begin in Andalucia’ – and fellow member Jose Antonio Ortega Lara were actually kidnapped by the group and held for more than a year.
But it was the Catalunya crisis, which saw an initial surge in support for the party.
In 2017, its member numbers increased by 20% in just 40 days following the independence referendum furore.
Vox’s tough stance on all forms of separatism will have struck a chord with proud Andalucians, who, living in the poorest region, are often mocked by the rest of Spain, not least by those in wealthy Catalunya.
Vox took advantage of that fact during its campaigning here, weaponizing how Quim Torra, the current president of Catalunya, wrote against ‘the beasts’ who speak Spanish.
There is also believed to have been an underlying backlash against the movement for women’s rights in Spain.
The ‘La Manada’ case in Sevilla helped sparked the national ‘Cuenta lo’ movement while new PSOE prime minister Pedro Sanchez created the most female-heavy cabinet in Spanish history.
According to pollster Narciso Michavila, almost seven out of 10 Vox voters were men.
It’s most likely that many men who are against women’s rights saw an ally in Vox, which is seen as anti-feminist and which wants to scrap the recent gender violence law.
Elsewhere, and much like France and the UK, immigration has become a central campaign issue.
Vox, which campaigned hard against migrants, and it is therefore no surprise that it did well in areas like Cadiz and Almeria, which have seen the largest number of Africans wash up on their shores in recent years.
Now it is likely the party will enter a coalition of right wing parties led by Ciudadanos and the PP, which will seriously shift Andalucia to the right.
While to some it is welcome news to see PSOE and Susana Diaz ousted after so many years, expect to see tougher stances on migration and Catalunya.
This step to the right has already apparently influenced PM Sanchez, who recently denied passage to a ship carrying migrants, striking a deal with Malta which agreed to take them in instead. He also oddly, against the normal PSOE stance, took up the issue of shared sovereignty of Gibraltar.
Just this week he appeared to take a stronger tone on the Catalunya issue, promising a ‘forceful’ response if the region tried to hold another independence vote unilaterally.
What is clear is that the political elite in Spain will need to clean up their act if they want to hold on to their voters.
The years of corruption by the country’s two biggest parties have left a stain on their reputations, while the temptation for the average voter to throw caution to the wind and ‘shake things up’ is often impossible to beat – look at Trump and Brexit.
But with a possible snap general election coming to Spain next year, the country’s biggest parties better get to work if they don’t want to have Vox deciding who will form the government.
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