SPANISH POLITICS

At first day of no confidence debate, Vox’s bid for power fails to find any support

Party leader Santiago Abascal spent more than two hours listing catastrophes he attributed to the Spanish government, citing George Soros, the Taliban and ISIS

From left to right, Vox deputies Santiago Abascal, Iván Espinosa de los Monteros and Macarena Olona look on as Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez speaks in Congress on Wednesday.
From left to right, Vox deputies Santiago Abascal, Iván Espinosa de los Monteros and Macarena Olona look on as Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez speaks in Congress on Wednesday.Emilio Naranjo / EFE

At the first day of their motion of no confidence debate against the government on Wednesday, far-right party Vox failed to find the support of any other group in the Congress of Deputies to save Spain from catastrophe. The party leader, Santiago Abascal, used his time at the lectern to list a catalogue of disasters he attributes to the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos coalition, but there was no news of Vox’s policies were his bid to oust Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to prosper. Not one of the other parties in Spain’s lower house of parliament expressed support for the motion.

Heading up the rejection of the party’s discourse was the PSOE prime minister himself, who did not hesitate to engage full on with Vox’s arguments. But the true target of his responses was the leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado. Sánchez repeatedly called on his traditional opponent to break off with the far right. Casado is due to speak today, during the second day of the debate, when he is finally likely to confirm whether his party will abstain or vote against Abascal’s candidacy for prime minister.

It was 12.35pm on Wednesday when Abascal shouted “Long live Spain, and long live the king!” His fellow deputies in Congress – Vox is the third-largest group in the chamber, after the PSOE and the PP – rose to their feet and responded in kind. That was how he concluded the 200 minutes that he had spent detailing his list of catastrophes attributed to the Spanish government since it took power at the start of this year. He had been preceded by fellow deputy Ignacio Garriga, and together the pair had painted a detailed picture of the horror – a country that has been plunged into economic, social and moral ruin thanks to the combined actions of pro-independence parties, the “Chinese virus,” and the “negligent and criminal” management of the government.

You are a danger not just because of the support that you have, but also because your ideas are infecting the traditional right wing
Prime Minister Sánchez to Vox

Faced with the downpour of indignities and betrayals that were attributed to him, Prime Minister Sánchez had the option of avoiding engaging in debate, and waiting until – as is almost certain to happen today – Congress rejects Vox’s initiative. Far from taking this route, Sánchez entered the fray.

“We are taking you and your project seriously,” Sánchez said to Abascal, to justify his lengthy response. “You are a danger not just because of the support that you have, but also because your ideas are infecting the traditional right wing,” he said, in an indirect reference to the PP, which has done governing deals across the country with Vox in order to form regional and local administrations. Sánchez’s response ended with the most-sought image on the part of the government: deputies from both the PSOE and Unidas Podemos on their feet and applauding, united, with enthusiasm. Today will see the turn of the deputy prime minister and Unidas Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, respond to Vox.

The Vox leadership took advantage of the media attention their motion afforded them yesterday in Congress, and also exploited to the full the lack of time limits they were subject to under the rules of the chamber. Garriga’s speech lasted 80 minutes, while Abascal talked for more than two hours, complaining about a government with “totalitarian ideology” that hides “criminal objectives,” such as “bringing the monarchy and the rule of law to an end.” The members of the government, the party claimed, are a “bunch of traitors” among whom there are “undercover agents” at the service of foreign interests: financier George Soros, the “narco-socialist mafia” in Latin America, the “oligarchy” controlled by the European Union with “Soviet pretensions,” and the “technological plutocracy” of the United States that is opposed to Donald Trump.

There was little talk of Vox’s policies during Abascal’s tirade

So dramatic is the situation, Garriga stated, that Basque terrorist group ETA, which announced its complete dissolution in 2018, “has not been defeated,” and still imposes a reign of terror in the Basque Country, he claimed. Abascal cited “the Taliban and ISIS” among the international admirers of the government, due to its alleged plan to demolish the cross at the Valley of the Fallen monument – the burial site of former dictator Francisco Franco, until his remains were exhumed last year and transferred to a private cemetery.

But there was little talk of Vox’s policies during Abascal’s tirade. After explaining that his proposal for the motion involved forming a technical Cabinet “of different stripes” in order to call an election before the end of the year, he reiterated well-known party promises: the illegalization of pro-independence parties in Spain, the abolition of the country’s system of autonomous regions, the protection of borders “on land and at sea” from immigration, and “cuts to all taxes and the liquidation of some of them.”

The government and its deputies weathered the storm in almost complete silence. They didn’t even show any gestures of disapproval, apart from the odd whisper or titter. At times, the chamber was host to the strange image of an orator who was detailing the huge severity of a whole class of plagues, while the targets of the discourse were ignoring him, engrossed instead in their cellphones.

When Sánchez took to the lectern, it seemed as if he was going to continue in the same line. The prime minister began with a measured tone, promising “not to respond to provocations.” But it gradually ratcheted up, with attacks on Abascal and his time in the PP, his actions in the Basque Country, and his €82,000 salary while he was working in a public role for the Madrid regional government. Sánchez rejected outright Abascal’s claim that he is a patriot. “You do not have solutions,” the prime minister stated. “You only propose hatred, hatred and hatred. You hate Spain as it is, because half of Spaniards are superfluous for you.”

One by one, the groups in Congress took to the lectern to announce their rejection of the motion

Despite the fact that one of the strategic objectives of the motion is to replace the PP as the leader of the opposition, Abascal only went so far as to call on the party for support, without leveling any criticism against it. It was Sánchez who made the most direct appeal to Casado, calling on him to vote against the motion, and citing the attitude of other conservative leaders in Europe toward the far right. “The more you approach Vox, the more you are going to be disregarded and the more they are going to call you the cowardly right,” he stated.

One by one, the groups in Congress took to the lectern to announce their rejection of the motion. The parties that are closest to Vox in terms of ideology, such as Navarra Suma, Foro Asturias and Coalición Canaria, reprimanded Abascal for wanting to do away with the system of autonomous regions. The leader of center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), Inés Arrimadas, said that she could share his criticism of the government, but not his mentions of “Chinese viruses and masonic conspiracies,” nor his absence of a governing program. The leftist groups called him a “fascist,” without offering much else in the way of nuance. The leader of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Aitor Esteban, opted to limit his response to just two minutes, to avoid participating in what he described as “foolish behavior.”

The only time that Vox found support from another group was when Abascal decided to read out the names, one by one, of the 853 victims killed by ETA. He did so in response to the intervention of a deputy from EH Bildu, a Basque nationalist party that has rejected violence but has failed to condemn the actions of ETA during its bloody campaign. As he went through the list of names, his fellow deputies got to their feet, followed by those of the PP. Soon after, however, the daughter of an ETA victim, Maria Jauregi, took to Twitter to criticize Abascal’s actions. “It’s a lack of respect to the memory of my father that you would use his name,” she wrote. “I don’t know if you know that my father fought against Francoism and he was a firm defender of dialogue and democracy. I won’t let you stain his name. Enough with using the victims.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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