No Good Outcomes in Upcoming Spanish Elections



Javier Ortega Smith, secretary general of the Vox party, echoes fascist Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.


With less than a month before Spain’s general elections, I can tell you one thing in advance: there will not be a winner. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called for the vote after the rejection of the annual budget by the Parliament, due to gridlock between the Spanish government and the members of the Catalan nationalist parties. Now, for the first time in the history of Spanish democracy, a far-right political party has a real chance of entering the Parliament. If we consider that a potential Brexit might result in Spain having a more powerful position in the European Union (EU), these elections should not be overestimated.

Spain’s case is no different from neighbors like France or Italy, or even the United States. The global trend of strong, alt-right, semi-authoritarian, populist discourse fueled by the migratory crisis in the Mediterranean and the 2008 economic crisis has, of course, seeped into Spanish politics, too.

Playing with fire

Particular Spanish dynamics are also at play, like the crisis in Catalonia over independence. The far-right movement, represented by the political party Vox, has taken advantage of the situation to spread its anti-feminism, anti-immigration and anti-regionalism discourse, which has been welcomed especially in the southern region of Andalucia and Madrid. In response, the traditional right and the center-right, represented by the Partido Popular and Ciudadanos respectively, have radicalized their discourses in an attempt to win back the support of those citizens that have been convinced by the far-right and its populist proposals.

For some years now, Spanish politicians have been playing with fire. They have focused on a particular social, cultural and linguistic identity to form exclusive political alliances, instead of engaging in universal concepts like economic equality or women’s rights. But playing identity politics is an impossible game to win, especially in a country with diverse ethnicities and five official languages.

Nevertheless, this strategy seems to work for the more conservative Spanish parties, who have gone back to Spanish nationalist symbols and myths in order to revive and protect Spanish nationalism from the Catalan independence movement. The Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol, the socialist party currently in power, has traditionally looked at these myths and symbols with a certain suspicion. Yet it has found itself with no other option, adopting a more conservative tone due to the Catalan self-determination dispute that threatens to break the territorial unity of Spain apart. The other political parties have also dug in, drawing red lines that make political agreements nearly impossible to reach.

Shadows of Franco

While all this is happening, the Catalan politicians responsible for organizing a referendum on Catalonia’s future in Spain and unilaterally declaring independence from Spain in 2017 are being judged in a trial that started last February. As a result, the pro-independence parties are too focused on Catalan politics and the fate of the political prisoners to really care about the elections.

Meanwhile, fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s shadow looms over the radicalization of the right. If that was not enough, Carles Puigdemont, the former Catalan president, who had been exiled to Belgium after proclaiming Catalonia’s independence in October 2017, announced that he will run in the EU elections. If he gets elected, he would have freedom of movement around all the EU and would be able to enter Spain without threat of arrest from the authorities. His return from his self-imposed exile a year and a half later would create optimism among the Catalan pro-independence forces on the one hand and tension and anxiety among the Spanish society and political parties on the other.

The Future of Catalonia

Whatever the result, the new government will clearly have an impact on Catalonia’s future. As I see it, there are two possibilities: one, a coalition will form amongst the right parties, signalling an authoritarian turn and more decision-making power over the autonomous Spanish regions for the central government in Madrid, not to mention danger for women’s rights and illegal immigrants’ rights. Or, two, a coalition between the Socialist Party, the more radical left and the Catalan and Basque nationalist parties. Under this shaky alliance, any bill would be hard to pass.

However, what I fear the most is a scenario in which the conservative parties win the majority of seats. As their leaders have already suggested, a conservative government would reject any eventual rejection of pardon — proposed by the current socialist government — to the imprisoned Catalan politicians and the abolition of the Catalan autonomy. This would undoubtedly lead to social discontent and disorder among the pro-independence citizens.

On April 28, no one will win. The battle was lost in the first place due to the lack of dialogue and understanding among all parts. I am unsure that the Catalan society and Spain as a whole can endure this situation for any longer. Whatever the results are, all roads seem to lead to Catalonia.