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Given the ascent of ultra-right political parties such as the “Rassemblement National” led by Le Pen in France, or the “Lega Nord” headed by Salvini in Italy, many were wondering why this kind of movement had not yet arrived in their neighboring country Spain. Well, it seems that it could have done so over the past weeks.

VOX, a radical far-right party funded in 2013, received 400.000 votes in the regional elections of Andalusia, obtaining 12 seats in the Andalusian parliament. These unexpected results (polls gave the party only around two seats) have left many wondering how and why this could have happened. But what does exactly VOX defend and why do some people even define it as a “fascist party”?

If we look at their electoral program, the first thing that stands out is its marked ultra-nationalism. VOX bases itself on a strong condemnation of the Catalans’ aspiration for independence, stressing the need for Spain to “defeat” them as their first point. They then highlight the superior status and sacredness of national symbols such as the flag, the hymn and the crown.

Moreover, they propose the supplantation of the regional autonomies with the creation of a centralized and unitary state (eliminating also the national status of languages such as Catalan or Basque).

On immigration, they propose the deportation of all illegal immigrants residing in Spain (no matter if they have families, or if they have been living in Spain for 10 or more years). They also argue that Hispanic peoples have a higher status over the rest due to language similarities and use a strongly xenophobic language against Muslims, calling for the closure of “fundamentalist and jihadist” mosques.

What is more, they opt for the elimination of the actual Gender Violence Law, the Abortion Law, and the gender quotas in the parliament among other things that would strongly affect women in Spain. They also defend a model of “natural family” (not mentioning whether homosexual families are included in that definition) and demand the suppression of gender change operations through the public health system. These are just some examples that depict the ultra-nationalist, xenophobic and anti-LGTB political discourse that Vox embraces.

In relation to Europe, they demand a new European treaty and ask for the abandonment of the Schengen area, which they argue encourages the arrival of illegal immigrants and protects “Catalan dissidents”. They also question the effectiveness and the need for European institutions, and call for a reduction of the contribution to the European budget. This clearly shows their Euroscepticism, which is important to keep in mind as they will present themselves to the European Parliamentary Elections in May, in which they could gain a relevant percentage of votes.

Besides their electoral program, another factor which stands out is the language used by Santiago Abascal, VOX’s president, and other party members. They adopt a populist discourse that recalls the one used by Trump during his own campaign –  they also want to build an “impassable wall” (in Ceuta and Melilla). They offer very simple solutions to complex problems, and use words such as the “reconquest”, “grandiosity of Spain”, “Spaniards first” to appeal to a national sentiment (does Make America Great Again ring a bell?).

The last “Trumpist” move has been their “criminalization” of the media. They denied the access of TV Channel “La Sexta” to all their rallies before the elections and declined its petitions for interviews, accusing the channel of demonizing them. Not only is VOX imitating Trump’s political campaign strategy, but has even received the support and guidance of Steve Bannon (the man behind Trump’s campaign) to do so.

One of the biggest questions people have been asking is how VOX, with its clearly radical right-wing program and discourse has been able to win such support in a region where the socialist party PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) has been ruling for 36 years. The reasons are many. Ignacio Jurado, professor of Political Science at New York University, argues that Andalusian elections had the perfect conditions for the rise of this party.

He believes that VOX has come in a moment when Spain is suffering an identity crisis due to the Catalan independence movement and the tensions related to immigration in Europe, among others. He says that this, added to the corruption scandals of the PSOE, unemployment, precariousness and the feeling of economic instability has been key in augmenting VOX’s popularity in Andalusia.

While the concrete circumstances of Andalusia might have been extremely favorable to the rise of VOX there, we should not dismiss it as a phenomenon uniquely regional. In fact, the party is increasing the number of its supporters all around Spain. To give an example, in October they were able to assemble 9000 supporters in the capital Madrid in one of their rallies. The party’s national strategy is now focused on being present in the streets with political propaganda and organizing more political rallies, which will certainly increase their popularity for the next Spanish Regional Elections in 2019.

This worrying phenomenon leads us to pose another big question, which is how the rest of the political spectrum will react (and has already reacted) to the Party’s ascent. It is very likely that the “centrist-right” (Ciudadanos) and “right” (PP – Partido Popular) parties will move even more to the right to try not to lose their electorate and appeal to those disenchanted left-voters that could potentially shift to the right with a populist discourse.

We have already seen this with the radicalization of the rhetoric of Pablo Casado, PP’s leader, who has increasingly been referring to immigration as a threat to Spain, and with the controversial celebration of a Ciudadanos rally in Alsasua in defense of the “Guardia Civil”. What is more, there is a high probability that these two parties will pact with VOX to control the Andalusian parliament. In this way, not only would they be legitimizing VOX’s political demands, but would also be normalising and adopting them, radicalizing the overall political discourse.

But the ascent of VOX marks as well the moment for the left to rethink about its strategy and learn a lesson. On one hand, as we have seen, the corruption scandals and economic mismanagement of PSOE in Andalusia have led to disenchantment in many voters. The party needs to undergo a transformation.

On the other hand, Adelante Andalucía, the alternative left party (composed by a coalition of Podemos, the Greens, Izquierda Unida and other left-wing alternative parties), needs to focus its efforts in attracting those traditional left-voters that have switched to the right into the left again.

The European Union also has to deeply analyze and find solutions to those things that are behind the fears of Europeans, which are being transformed into skepticism and hate. European leaders need to come up with a common framework to handle the tensions posed by immigration, among other things, but need also to pursue a strategy based on the promotion of unity and the values of the European Union. This can only be done through the rejection of the polarization and radicalization of political parties.

Spaniards are tired of the political scandals, worried about a national identity crisis, angered with the economic instability and fearful of what impact the European immigration tensions could have for Spain. But Spaniards should also remember how VOX poses a threat for many of the precious things that the country has obtained after 40 years of Franco’s dictatorship: the European Union, Homosexual Marriage, or the Law of Abortion among others. Spaniards should also remember how one of the beauties of Spain is its diversity, and should still fight to preserve all those regional characteristics (such as regional languages and traditions) that add to making Spain unique.

VOX might have entered the Spanish political game, but it has not won it yet. It is time for Spaniards to remain alert, rethink and protect those aspects of their (already weak in many ways) democracy that have taken so much effort to be gained.

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