The hard-right Vox could be in Spain’s next government
UNLESS THE polls are very wrong, Spains opposition centre-right Peoples Party (PP) will come first in the election on July 23rd, comfortably ahead of the governing Socialists. Vying for third and fourth are Vox (to the PPs right) and Sumar (to the Socialists left). Minnowsmostly regional parties, including some separatist oneswill make up the rest. This leaves Spain facing two possible coalition governments. The Socialists (under Pedro Sanchez, the prime minister) and Sumar hope to form a minority government resembling the current one. But to do so they would need the help of many of the minnows and separatists, which would entail awkward compromises and potential instability. The more likely scenario is a PP government with the support of Vox. That would mean Spains first government since the end of General Francisco Francos dictatorship in 1975 to include the hard righta prospect that would worry many, both within the country and outside it. What is Vox? Its opponents call it fascist. Its leaders call this a boo-word used by leftists unable to answer its arguments. A party rally on July 20th in stiflingly hot and humid Murcia, a city in Spains south-east, provided a sense of what motivates its voters. The region gave Vox 29% of its votes in the election of November 2019, the partys strongest result in Spain. Santiago Abascal, Voxs leader, denounced a litany of threats to Spain: separatists (meaning proponents of Catalan independence); terrorists (referring to the Basque countrys now-disbanded ETA movement); communists; gender ideology; EU bureaucrats; the new religion of climate change; and more. What does Vox stand for in contrast? Sovereignty, borders and dignity, a word much used by Mr Abascal. But he also spoke up for a democratic state, women equal in dignity and rights to men, and orderly immigration (as opposed to the illegal kind). In truth Vox brings together a grab-bag of different complaints. Its leaders split from the PP around a decade ago in disgust at the bigger partys perceived softness towards separatists. But it has attracted support from aristocrats and the poorest voters (it does worst among the middle classes), EU sceptics (of which Spain has unusually few), climate-change deniers, men startled by the pace of feminist change, hunters and bullfighting aficionados, and people who say they are tired of not being able to proudly display a Spanish flag. (They showed no such reticence at the rally in Murcia.) But asked to name their top concern, a number of those at the rally answered security. They quickly added that by that they meant controlling immigration. Vox leaders and voters say they support legal migrantsespecially Latinos, who share Spains native language and majority religion and are eager to integrate. They say they oppose only illegal immigration, especially from the Arab world and Africa. Murcia has attracted many such immigrants, who toil in its fruit and vegetable fields in sweltering conditions. Francisco, a 55-year-old at the rally, blamed them for driving down agricultural workers wages. Roque, 19 and studying hairdressing, said it was hard to find work in competition with them (and that his female friends are afraid of going out alone). This situates Vox among the many right-wing nationalist and populist parties in Europe giving established parties headaches. Chief among those rubbing their temples in Spain is the leader of the PP, Alberto Nunez Feijoo. He has moved the party towards the political centre in recent years. That shift has been largely successful. But it has opened up room on the right. Mr Feijoo will almost certainly lack a majority unless he strikes a deal with Vox. Regional elections on May 28th provided a hint of Mr Feijoos options. In Valencia and Extremadura, the PP has struck pacts with Vox, the latter winning ministerial jobs and formal coalitions. But in other regions, including Murcia, the PP has held out for a minority government alone, with Vox supporting it from the outside. Vox has refused. Murcia may be headed for new elections as a result. Spaniards are tired of political conflict. They had two elections in 2019 after the first failed to produce a government, and regional elections (especially in Catalonia, Castilla y Leon and Andalucia) have kept them voting and talking politics since. The difficulties of Mr Sanchezs minority coalition government have added to the strain. Voters exhausted by these dramas are returning to the two big centrist parties. But enough remain tempted by novel parties at the extremes that a return to stable single-party government looks all but impossible. This election marks the first time Spaniards have voted during the peak of Europes holiday season. Everyone is eager to head to the beach, or the cool of the mountains. But forming a coalition will be gruelling. Whoever comes first on Sunday will have little time to relax and enjoy their victory.