Is Spain the next populist domino to fall?

Far-right party wins seats in regional election for first time since the death of Francisco Franco

Vox supporters wave Spanish flags in Madrid on Sunday
(Image credit: Oscar del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images)

A far-right party in Spain has won seats in a regional election for the first time since the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, in a further sign right-wing populism is gaining momentum across Europe.

The anti-immigrant Vox party gained 12 seats in the southern region of Andalucia, which has struggled with high unemployment and is one of the flashpoints for the country's battle with illegal immigration.

The party has attracted voters with its hardline stance on illegal immigration, its opposition to Catalan independence and abortion and calls for Gibraltar to be returned to Spain. According to NPR it also favours harsher penalties for ETA, the violent Basque separatist movement, rolling back domestic violence laws, reducing or eliminating taxes and more centralised power.

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While most polling before the election had suggested that a protest vote of around 5% might allow the ultra-conservative, anti-immigration Vox to sneak a seat or two, “its result of 11% and 12 regional MPs is unequivocal evidence that a new force has erupted into Spanish national politics”, says The Daily Telegraph.

It could now find itself as kingmakers with the ruling Socialist party failing to secure enough seats to command a majority, but its impact on the right goes much further.

The Guardian reports that the emergence of Vox has served to drag the once hegemonic People’s Party and moderate Ciudadanos “further from the centre ground as the Spanish right continues to fragment”.

“Polls had previously suggested that Vox would gain representation on a national level. There can be little doubt about that now,” says the Telegraph.

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Seeking to align populist parties across Europe, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen tweeted: “Strong and warm congratulations to my friends from @Vox, who tonight in Spain scored a very meaningful result for such a young and dynamic movement.”

The results in Andalucia, a region where the Socialist party has governed since the first post-Franco elections in 1982, “are likely to spark fears that the far-right could gain further influence in a series of local and European elections in May 2019”, says CNN.

Susana Diaz, the Socialist candidate in the region, told Reuters: “This phenomenon we have seen in the rest of Europe and the world has now reached Spain and is entering the Andalucia parliament.”

It was the first time the nationalist surge that has swept much of Europe had reached Spain, “long seen as immune because many still remember the military dictatorship of Franco”, says the news agency.

The BBC reports nationalist movements, fuelled by anger toward political elites and mistrust of immigration, now make up more than 20% of the electorate in Denmark, Switzerland and Austria, while Hungary, Finland, Sweden and Italy are not far behind.

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