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NATIONAL ELECTION IN SPAIN
Editorials
These are the responsibility of the editor and convey the newspaper's view on current affairs-both domestic and international

National election in Spain: Voting for coexistence

For the first time in 40 years, this vote could open the doors of the central government to the far right

Elections Spain
A man casts his vote at a polling station in Valencia at the local and regional elections in May.MONICA TORRES
El País

The significance of today’s national election in Spain is historic, without any risk of exaggerating its relevance. The ballot boxes will decide whether Spaniards would prefer an updated progressive coalition of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Sumar, or whether they will choose a radical overhaul of the executive formed by a majority of Popular Party (PP) lawmakers with support from a party, Vox, that is openly aligned in its rhetoric and political practices with Europe’s most radical far right.

The alternation in government between the right and the left is widely consolidated in our country. At historically painful moments, such as the jihadist attacks of 2004, Spain experienced a change of government — from the Popular Party to the Socialists —, against the backdrop of the false attribution to [the defunct Basque terrorist group] ETA. Spanish democracy also experienced — as naturally as in 1982 and 1996 — a new government change when the deterioration of the economic crisis in 2010 was so severe that Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero, a Socialist, had to agree on a constitutional reform with the PP in just one weekend to set the spending ceiling, and called early elections that sent the PSOE into the opposition and gave a historic majority to the right.

The two-party system of the PSOE-PP ended in 2015. A new political reality has reached parliament, fragmenting the representation of the Spanish people and inaugurating a period which — after several years of instability that forced lawmakers to extend the national budget on three occasions — has given birth to the first coalition government of democracy. This government has managed to approve its own budgets year after year and in due time, and to practically complete its term of office despite having had to face a global pandemic, a war on European soil and a serious inflation crisis associated with it.

Today we go to the polls again and until the ballot boxes are opened, and the votes are counted, any outcome is possible. All opinion polls indicate that either of the two major parties — PSOE and PP — will need to reach a pact in order to govern. The difficulty of the Spanish right to weave alliances, even with the peripheral right wing, the fragmentation of the vote and the recent trajectory and statements of PP leaders point to the possibility of the far-right Vox entering the Spanish government for the first time, if the voting yields that outcome.

This newspaper has no concern, neither big nor small, about the fact that on July 23 a right-wing or left-wing government will be decided. The vote that EL PAÍS has defended since its foundation almost half a century ago is genuinely and scrupulously democratic. But Vox promotes regressive and reactionary policies that aspire to disrupt, for the first time in the contemporary history of Spain, the construction of a country that scores very highly in the most demanding standards of democratic quality and that is trying to emerge, through democratic dialogue, from its most recent traumas, such as the constitutional sabotage of 2017 in Catalonia. Contrary to what Jaime Gil de Biedma once wrote, it ceased to be true a long time ago that “Of all the stories of History / the saddest is undoubtedly that of Spain, / because it ends badly.”

It was true when the poet was writing those lines, in the 1960s and still in the middle of Franco’s regime, but it is no longer true half a century later, even though Vox does not disown the dictatorship. Today Spain is a modern country, pro-European, tolerant, accepting of differences of race, class, religion and ethnic origin or personal and family choices of all kinds, demanding equality for women, a defender of LGBTQ+ rights, respectful of immigrants and their often traumatic biographical circumstances, and massively committed to act against the objective threat of global warming caused by human action, which only human action can stop. In short, Spaniards are taking charge of a world that is becoming increasingly complex and that confronts us with as many concerns as it does opportunities. Many of these characteristics that define the social majorities in Spain are being challenged by a far right that introduces a serious anomaly in the culture of coexistence that Spaniards have built up with great effort. Some practical examples of this challenge are being seen in the cities and regional executives where Vox already governs with the PP.

Voters who go to the polls today have experienced a campaign that has been very much focused on truth and lies. Among the most serious lies, the one that sought to sow suspicions about the electoral process itself in the vote cast by mail: 94.2% of those who requested a postal vote had been able to cast it on Friday, the highest percentage since 2008 and with a notable increase in demand due to the summer dates of the election. The unobjectionable success of this public service, of its managers and its employees, evidences the dangerous toxicity that the adoption and normalization of extreme rhetoric by mainstream conservatives has managed to introduce in Spanish life and which, in terms of questioning the voting process, we had only observed in Trump’s America or in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. This far-right influence on the traditional right-wing parties is now Europe’s battle horse because it questions some of the existential pillars of the EU, and Spain can be a determining factor in the European Union’s balance.

The decisive date is today. There is no doubt about the transparency and efficiency of the Spanish electoral system. Democracy is not a routine, it is an opportunity for the future, and only by exercising the vote is it possible to conquer it.

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