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Political poison

The limelight afforded to Vox’s radical ideas at the no-confidence debate in Spanish Congress casts a shadow on the country

Vox leader Santiago Abascal speaking in Congress on Wednesday.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal speaking in Congress on Wednesday.Mariscal / EFE

While the coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate unabated in Spain, where recorded cases have exceeded one million and where the health, economic and institutional crises are deepening, Vox on Wednesday presented its no-confidence motion against the government. The backdrop – a pandemic that the entire planet is fighting against – did not modify the agenda of the far-right party led by Santiago Abascal.

The fifth no-confidence motion in Spain’s democratic history, and the third since 2017, did not focus on alternative strategies to confront the crisis created by the pandemic. The speech by Vox deputy Ignacio Garriga and the one that followed by Abascal were a pastiche of toxic messages imported from the national-populism that we have seen emerge in recent years all over the world, from the Americas to Europe and from Asia to Australia.

The first parliamentary session on Wednesday confirmed the political failure represented by the fact that a leader with such radical and extreme positions should get so much time in the limelight in a country going through such an extreme situation. Climate change denial and rhetoric against gender equality were some of the issues underpinning an address that was nothing more than a tirade filled with reactionary slogans. Its contents, and the openly incendiary and divisive tone employed, are cause for deep concern.

Vox’s ideology represents an unacceptable regression back to a time of obscurantism, intolerance and closed societies

The leader of the third-largest force in parliament exhibited an extreme rejection of Europe and focused on attacking the “totalitarian agenda” of a government that it continues to describe as “a socialist-communist popular front.” This kind of extreme rhetoric facilitated the reply by Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who delivered a well-structured speech in a correct tone and described Abascal’s arguments as “a display of propaganda that sows discord and diverts energies.”

Vox’s ideology represents an unacceptable regression back to a time of obscurantism, intolerance and closed societies. We should not underestimate the risk that the situation of economic insecurity and uncertainty could in future drive support for this kind of thinking. Abascal’s emotional recipes could find an echo due to the problems that the country is experiencing, partly due to the errors in the management of the pandemic. Vox’s answers to those problems are wrong, but the concerns of its voters are legitimate and must be addressed, particularly by the government but also by the opposition.

It is up to the president of the Popular Party, Pablo Casado, to decide whether he wants to lead the opposition or whether, on the contrary, he will continue to make room for Abascal’s party. Spain needs a constructive and institutional opposition. The government, whose performance bears improvement, should be the target of strict parliamentary control but not of radical attacks unsupported by figures.

The medium-term strategy for the right to regain the strength it once had lies in moderation, in national pacts and in isolating the radicals. The fact of not clarifying its vote until today, the second day of the no-confidence motion, is a way of betraying its own insecurity, and it bodes ill. In light of what happened on Wednesday, if Spain’s traditional right, with Casado at the helm, is still not clear about the fact that its role within the democratic system implies distancing itself from the political poison of the far right, then Spain has a serious problem.

English version by Susana Urra.

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