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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Once scorned, far right secures foothold in Spanish cities

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of Spain at the White House in Washington, May 12, 2023. Sanchez called for snap elections in July following gains by the opposition.

By Constant Méheut

Spain’s far right took office in a string of cities and in a powerful region over the weekend by forging coalition agreements with the moderate right, in a move that may foreshadow a broader alliance to govern the country after next month’s general elections.

The agreements came about three weeks after the center-right Popular Party crushed Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s left-wing coalition in regional and local elections. To secure control of dozens of cities, the Popular Party struck coalition deals with the far-right Vox, which also performed well, embracing part of the party’s nationalist, anti-migrant agenda.

Both parties will now govern together in some 25 cities of more than 30,000 residents, including five regional capitals, giving Vox, a party once considered anathema by most voters, crucial political leverage. They have also teamed up to run the wealthy Valencia region, which accounts for 10% of Spain’s population.

“It’s something completely new, both in terms of extent and depth,” Sandra León, a political analyst at Carlos III University in Madrid, said of the alliances. “It opens up a new path, a new period in the right-wing bloc.”

The growing popularity of Vox, which is already the third-largest political force in the Spanish parliament, has coincided with the rise of the far right in Europe, at a time when the continent is grappling with fierce identity debates, the economic fallout of a pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Hard-right forces already govern Italy, and last Friday, Finland’s main conservative party announced a new coalition government with a nationalist party. In France, Marine Le Pen’s normalization strategy is steadily bearing fruit.

Santiago Abascal, the leader of Vox, has made it clear that he intends to make the most of his party’s gains locally. “We are and we will be extending our hand to build an alternative,” he wrote on Twitter this week, just as Vox and the Popular Party were locked in negotiations over regional governments.

While municipal councils had to be formed by Saturday, regional governments have more time, and new agreements between Vox and the Popular Party could be reached in the next few days in regions such as Extremadura, in the west, and Murcia, in the east.

León said the local coalition agreements would help Vox, a party created only a decade ago, gain experience in running cities and provide it with resources to consolidate its organizational base. But she added that the most important outcome of the agreements is that they “have paved the way” for an alliance at the national level.

Most polls show the Popular Party, also known by its initials PP, winning most votes in the early general elections Sánchez has called for next month. But it would require an alliance with Vox to be able to form a government, a possibility that Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the Popular Party leader, has not ruled out.

“Such clear pacts have been concluded between Vox and the PP” at the local level, León said, that “we already know they will ally” after the national elections.

The prospect of the far right gaining national power has come as a shock in a country where nationalist forces had long been sidelined because of the shadow of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, which ended in the 1970s.

In particular, the alliance between the Popular Party and Vox to govern the Valencia region has raised concerns about a rollback of civil rights.

The coalition agreement in Valencia promises to “preserve the quality of education by removing ideology from the classroom,” in an apparent allusion to contents on gender equality that form part of the curriculum and which Vox has long criticized. The agreement also makes no mention of climate change, a phenomenon that some Vox leaders have denied is linked to human activity.

León said the agreement showed that the Popular Party “is willing to compromise on some issues on which it has different views from Vox” in order to govern.

The left was quick to use the Valencia agreement as proof that a Popular Party governing in alliance with Vox would be a step backward.

“There is something much more dangerous than Vox, and that is a PP that assumes the postulates and policies of Vox,” Sánchez said in an interview with El País on Sunday. “And this is what we are seeing: the negation of political, social and scientific consensus.”

Under pressure, the Popular Party has tried to distance itself from the most controversial positions of the far-right party. After a top Vox leader in Valencia said last Friday that “gender violence does not exist” — an issue that parties from across the political spectrum have long acknowledged and combated — Feijóo rushed to denounce his remarks.

“Gender violence exists,” Feijóo wrote on Twitter. “We will not take a step back in the fight against this scourge. We will not give up our principles, no matter the cost.”

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