The 28th April 2019 saw Spain’s electorate swarm to the ballot box in what was set to be an intriguing test of campaigning success, and an indicator of how much Spanish politics had polarised as the alternate poles of the political spectrum stared one another down. Each section of Madrid, demarcated according to political allegiance, had been tangibly targeted. Walking through Salamanca, Pablo Casado’s pearlescent teeth fluttered from every street lamp; Calle Ferraz was swarmed by PSOE supporters and Vox’s Santiago Abascal faced his supporters in Plaza Margaret Thatcher.

It quickly became clear that Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) claimed the title of undisputed winner- despite falling short of an absolute majority. The 123 seats secured in Congress put the Spanish prime minister in the position to lead a coalition; but Sánchez’s dilemma in choosing a political dance partner was not the main focus of these national elections.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

What did make headlines was the humiliation of Pablo Casado and the traditionally conservative PP (Partido Popular); it has thoroughly shown the failure of the party to appeal to its previous support base. Succeeding Mariano Rajoy as president of the PP, Casado has presided over the party’s worst result in years; drops in representation in Catalonia and mass abandonment by their voters leaves the PP clutching at the 66 still within their grasp.

But why did Pablo Casado face a mortifying defeat on the 28th April? Part of the answer lies in what has been termed the end of Spanish ‘exceptionalism’; Spain had previously remained above the tide of far-right policies flooding European politics in what may be termed a mainstream way. However, these elections saw far-right, outspokenly anti-immigration party Vox gain a real political foothold for the first time since the end of the military dictatorship under General Francisco Franco. Only established in 2013, Vox has now gained over 10% of the vote in these general elections. Their 24 seats may not make them a political force on the same scale as PSOE or the other, more established parties, but as Santiago Abascal stood in Plaza Margaret Thatcher on the evening of the elections, it became clear that any analysis based just on the number of seats they now hold would be superficial. These results are a testament to the increasing polarisation of Spanish politics; Spanish exceptionalism to this European political tendency, it seems, has come to an end.

Vox’s ascension has a deliberate hand in PP’s defeat. The PP’s tactic of channeling hardline, right-wing rhetoric in its attempts to keep hold of voters leaning towards Vox not only failed, but also alienated more centre-right supporters that, ultimately, abandoned the PP for parties such as Cuidadanos. Simultaneously, Vox had consciously tailored its campaigning to tear conservative PP voters from Pablo Casado’s grasp. Perhaps this is what has seen Vox make strides in the traditionally more conservative Andalucía, and amongst the rural districts of Madrid. That being said, the swing to the right is still not a prospect widely relished by those who remember the legacy of General Francisco Franco. Vox have wedged their way into Spanish politics, following a growing European political trend, but many are wary of Abascal’s references to the Spanish Reconquista and Spanish glory days, as well as clear rhetorical undertones calling on a more authoritarian recent past.

Spanish exceptionalism to this European political tendency, it seems, has come to an end

April has proved to be a fascinating month for Spanish politics. With the next round of municipal, regional and European elections just around the corner, only time will tell if politics on every level sees the new edge of polarisation.

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