This Sunday, 28th April 2019, Spaniards return to the polls for the third time in four years.
Pedro Sánchez, incumbent President, called for the elections in February after his budget was rejected by Catalan separatists. Sánchez’s social democratic party, the PSOE, had only assumed power 9 months earlier after a spate of corruption scandals toppled Mariano Rajoy’s conservative Partido Popular.
Vox and a resurgent Spanish nationalism
In February 2019, thousands of madrileños took to the streets of Madrid in support of Spanish unity. One of the speakers at the rally was Santiago Abascal, the leader of the hard line right-wing Vox party that has recently surged in popularity. Vox was created 5 years ago by former members of the PP but failed to gain traction initially – instead Spain favoured leftist Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos as alternatives to the traditional two-party system.
However, with the Catalan independence claim causing a serious threat to the future existence of a united nation, coupled with an alt-right distaste for a rise in “radical feminism” (in Abascal’s own words), the political formation have swelled with support.
In December 2018, for the first time in 36 years, the socialist PSOE party lost its local Andalucían government to a coalition of PP, Ciudadanos and Vox. This came as a shock to many. Spain had seemed impervious to the rise of a populist right-wing group; anger was directed towards corrupt elites in the wake of a 2008 financial crisis that saw youth unemployment reach 50%.
Despite the fact that Spain has made a swifter economic recovery than other EU states, this has failed to stop the march of new political forces. Vox is the new kid on the block, making this weekend’s election a five-way tussle.
The Catalan Question and Brexit
There’s a vicious cycle in motion. Sánchez’s perceived inability to placate the Catalans has caused the elections this weekend, which may enable Vox to gain a crucial foothold, and in turn see a stronger push towards Spanish nationalism, which will serve to weaken Catalan independence claims.
There are similarities to Brexit here. The PP and Ciudadanos are having to placate hard line backbenchers and Vox supporters by shifting markedly to the right; much like Cameron did when negotiating a deal with the EU in 2015 more focused on appeasing UKIP-liable Conservatives than appealing to the other EU member states.
The Female Vote
A key area of focus in this election is the female vote. Despite female mayors in Madrid and Barcelona in the past four years, there are widespread gender grievances in Spain focused on two areas: inequality and violence.
Thousands of Spanish women took to the streets in March 2019 for International Women’s Day. This is unsurprising given stats such as 47 women murdered across Spain in 2018 from gender violence crimes, and Spanish women earning 15.1% less than men according to Eurostat’s Gender Inequality Index.
Vox have led a large part of their political campaign complaining about gender laws and discrimination against men in domestic abuse laws – they wish to halt aid for women beaten by men, saying it unfairly favours the woman. A representative of Vox even said a raped woman doesn’t have the right to an abortion. It remains to be seen how the women of Spain will react to this anti-feminist stance on Sunday.
At present, polls show that 40% of the Spanish public are undecided, and that the majority of “Don’t Knows” are women. This means that the female reaction to key gender issues, as well as their reaction to Vox’s coarse rhetoric, may be pivotal in the result of this election.
The Likely Outcome
Sánchez and the PSOE may just win enough seats to form a renewed coalition with Podemos that isn’t propped up by Catalan separatists. The Catalan crisis is very much ongoing, with 12 separatist leaders currently on trial. The most straightforward way for Spain as a nation to clear these troubled waters is for one party to win big – but with the political spectrum so divided, the nation seems set to continue in its social and political division beyond these elections.
We may well see another stalemate followed by a fourth general election later this year.
by Eddie Cummings