SPANISH POLITICS

Echoes of Franco as Spain’s far right tells PM his government is ‘worst in 80 years’

The remarks by Vox leader Santiago Abascal in Congress reminded many lawmakers of an old phrase uttered by regime nostalgics about life being better under the dictatorship

Vox leader Santiago Abascal speaking during question time on Wednesday inside Spain's Congress of Deputies.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal speaking during question time on Wednesday inside Spain's Congress of Deputies.Eduardo Parra / Europa Press

Spain’s far right is taking its strategy to a new level. On Wednesday, during the first question time in the lower house of parliament following summer recess, the leader of Vox made statements that reminded many of a phrase uttered by Francisco Franco supporters years after the dictator’s death: “Life was better under Franco.”

Santiago Abascal, whose Vox party holds 52 seats, making it the third-largest force in the Congress of Deputies, addressed Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) to tell him that “you head the worst government in 80 years.”

Sánchez himself initially thought it must have been a verbal blunder by Abascal

This period of time includes the Franco regime, which lasted from the end of the civil war (1936-1939) to the dictator’s death in 1975. The remark was so unexpected that more than one conservative lawmaker stared at Abascal in disbelief, while Sánchez himself initially thought it must have been a verbal blunder.

But Abascal later repeated the remark on Twitter, making it clear that it was a deliberate statement. Sánchez reminded Abascal that eight decades after the civil war, Spain is about to pass legislation making the Francisco Franco Foundation illegal. And so the first congressional question time in the era of Covid-19 was filled with unexpected echoes of the past inside a chamber that was half-empty due to coronavirus safety measures.

Budget partners

There was another disconcerting verbal attack inside the chamber, although it came in a distant second in terms of shock value. This time, it was Sánchez who surprised lawmakers with a remark against Ciudadanos, the center-right party that could provide the support the executive urgently needs to get its budget plan approved.

Spain has been functioning with the same budget since 2018, and the minority coalition government of PSOE and the leftist Unidas Podemos lacks the votes to push the plan through parliament without backing from other parties.

On Wednesday, Sánchez stated that “Ciudadanos clearly hasn’t come out of the Colón photograph,” alluding to a picture of an anti-government protest march showing representatives of Ciudadanos, Vox and the Popular Party (PP) standing together in February 2019. That image of “the three rights” was used by Sánchez on the campaign trail ahead of the general elections.

You should show more sympathy for the victims than for the executioners
Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas to PM Pedro Sánchez

The remark surprised Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas, who replaced former chief Albert Rivera in March and has since worked to guide the party back towards its self-definition as a centrist liberal group. When it was time for her to question the executive, Arrimadas fired back with a reproach. “You should show more sympathy for the victims than for the executioners,” she told Sánchez, who on Tuesday had lamented the suicide of a jailed member of the defunct Basque terrorist organization ETA.

Later, sources at Ciudadanos said that the explanation for this outburst from Sánchez is that he is simultaneously working on two potential negotiations to get his budget approved: one with Ciudadanos, and another one with the Catalan Republican Party (ERC), a separatist group that wants nothing to do with the pro-unity Ciudadanos. The same sources said that the prime minister will soon have to choose his partner, and that this twin-track approach “is not going to work out for him.”

Meanwhile, ERC representative Gabriel Rufián asked Unidas Podemos “to hold on tight, because if you hold on, we will hold on,” in what was widely viewed as an invitation for Podemos to keep pressuring the PSOE to leave Ciudadanos out of the budget equation and work with ERC instead. The coalition partners have been themselves occasionally at odds over whose support they should seek.

English version by Susana Urra.

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