The rise of right-wing populism in Spain: finally a reality?

Anyone who truly loves politics will have felt a mixture of morbid curiosity and at the same time deep fear when witnessing some of the key political trends in Europe. I can recall feeling precisely that when Podemos was founded in 2014 in Spain. On the one hand, I was somehow concerned about its rise, as in the end, Podemos was a left-wing populist party with –in my humble opinion– radical views and policies that suddenly attracted millions of voters. However, I couldn’t contain my excitement either. For the first time since the establishment of democracy in Spain, the two-party system was under threat. The consequences of this were, by then, unknown. And unlike scientists, who can predict what may happen in their experiments based on previous data, it was very hard for us to foresee what the rise of left-wing populism in Spain could cause.

However, whilst the rise of Podemos was in itself an exceptional phenomenon that intrigued many, a parallel trend (or rather, the absence of a parallel trend) was also extremely interesting: the lack of right-wing populist parties in Spain. Many European countries had witnessed the rise of such parties, but Spain’s political party VOX – a right-wing populist party founded in 2013 – did not make substantial gains. In the 2014 European elections, VOX got 250,000 votes, but did not win any seats. The party wasn’t lucky in the 2015 regional elections, nor in the 2016 and 2017 general elections either.

Why has VOX failed up until now? We could spend days discussing this, as the answer is not straightforward. As social scientists love to say, it is explained by many different factors. Some worth mentioning are the capacity of the People’s Party to maintain its monopoly on the Right; the arguably lack of a strong leadership; or the reluctance of many to support far-right parties after Franco’s death and the end of the dictatorship. The first factor, nonetheless, has proven to be key in recent months, as the decline of the People’s Party could potentially change the results of future elections.

In June, the former president of the People’s Party Mariano Rajoy stepped down as party leader after being ousted as Spain’s president by a vote of no-confidence. After an intense leadership battle, Pablo Casado, a young hardliner, was elected. However, whilst many expected the new leader of the party to bring back conservative right-wing voters that may have considered supporting (or had actually voted for) VOX, many internal struggles in his party are still dissuading people from supporting him. A couple of weeks ago there was a major scandal regarding an agreement reached by the People’s Party and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party for the renovation of the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ) and the Supreme Court. This, together with many other internal problems and corruption cases; as well as former president Rajoy’s deplorable management of the Catalan crisis, has been fuelling an increasing support for the right-wing populist party VOX.

As a political voyeur, I cannot wait for the Andalusian regional election, which will take place on the 2nd December. Some of the main protagonists of the election’s campaign have been key national party leaders, including Pablo Casado and Albert Rivera, leader of Ciudadanos, who have been touring many of the Andalusian provinces to promote the messages of their parties; or Santiago Abascal, leader of VOX, who attended the party’s main event in Malaga. Shockingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the leader of the People’s Party has been using a similar rhetoric to Abascal’s, demanding a ‘Spanish Gibraltar’ and taking a hard stance against immigration.

Will VOX succeed in Andalusia next Sunday? Public opinion surveys seem to suggest this. However, as previously mentioned, politics is not a science. We shall wait and see.



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