Spain's conservative populist party, Vox, more than doubled its seats in parliament after winning 3.6 million votes in general elections held on November 10. It is now the third-largest party in Spain. Pictured: Vox leader Santiago Abascal speaks at an election rally, on October 31, 2019. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Spain's populist party, Vox, more than doubled its seats in parliament after winning 3.6 million votes in general elections held on November 10. The fast-rising conservative party, which entered parliament for the first time only eight months ago, is now the third-largest party in Spain.
Vox leaders campaigned on a "traditional values" platform of law and order, love of country and a hardline approach to anti-constitutional separatists in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia.
Vox's meteoric rise is a direct result of the political vacuum created by the mainstream center-right Popular Party, which in recent years has drifted to the left on a raft of domestic and foreign policy issues, including that of uncontrolled mass migration.
The Socialist Party won the election with 28% of the vote — far short of an outright majority. The Popular Party won 20.8% and Vox won 15.1%. The rest of the votes went to a dozen other parties ranging from the far-left party Podemos (9.8%), the centrist libertarian party Ciudadanos (6.8%), Basque and Catalan nationalist parties and a hodge-podge of regional parties from Aragón, Canary Islands, Cantabria, Galicia, Melilla and Navarra. In all, more than a dozen political parties are now represented in parliament.
Spain has had a multi-party system since the country emerged from dictatorship in 1975, but two parties, the Socialist Party and the Popular Party, predominated until the financial crisis in 2008. After it, both parties underwent ideological splits that resulted in the establishment of breakaway parties.
The fragmentation of Spanish politics has made it difficult to form a coalition government: the November election was the fourth in four years. In the election held in April 2019, Vox won 2.6 million votes, or 10.3%, and entered Parliament for the first time with 24 seats. In the November vote, Vox won nearly a million additional votes and will now have 52 seats in Parliament.
Vox was established in 2013 in response to concerns that mainstream politicians in the Popular Party were failing to stop the Catalan independence movement, halt mass migration and combat the "cultural hegemony" of the left.
Vox's rise has been fueled by its uncompromising stance after Catalan separatists in 2017 declared independence from Spain. Mainstream politicians, fearful of fueling the independence movement, have appeared weak and wavering. Vox leader Santiago Abascal, by contrast, has called for a state of emergency to be imposed in Catalonia, and for Catalan separatist parties to be outlawed.
Politicians on both the left and the right have sought to undermine Vox by branding the party, among other terms, as fascist, racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, reactionary, homophobic and anti-democratic.
Vox, however, does not fit the traditional left-right paradigm: an estimated 300,000 voters who normally vote for the Socialist Party are believed to have voted for Vox in this election.
After Vox entered Parliament in April, prosecutors in Valencia, the third-largest city in Spain, said that they were investigating Javier Ortega Smith, the second-ranking leader of Vox, for an alleged hate crime after they received a complaint from a Muslim group called "Muslims Against Islamophobia" (Musulmanes Contra la Islamofobia).
At a rally in Valencia on September 16, 2018, Ortega Smith had declared that Europe's "common enemy" is the "Islamist invasion":
"Our common enemy, the enemy of Europe, the enemy of freedom, the enemy of progress, the enemy of democracy, the enemy of the family, the enemy of life, the enemy of the future is called the Islamist invasion.
"What is at stake is what we understand or know as civilization. It is under serious threat. We are not alone. More and more Europeans are standing up because they are suffering in their cities, on their streets and in their neighborhoods due to the application of Sharia law. They are not willing to have their cathedrals torn down and forcibly replaced with mosques.
"They are not willing to have their women cover their faces with a black cloth and be forced to walk ten steps behind — to be treated worse than camels. They are not willing to extinguish what we understand as civilization and a respect for rights and freedom."
The criminal inquiry appeared aimed at silencing critical discussion of Islam ahead of national elections.
Spain's media establishment has also prohibited representatives of Vox from appearing on national television — apparently in an effort to prevent Spanish voters from knowing more about the Vox platform.
After Vox entered Parliament in April 2019, however, Abascal and other Vox leaders were granted more media exposure. Vox received a major boost after Spanish television was required to allow Abascal to participate, for the first time, in a nationally televised presidential debate, on November 4. More than eight million voters tuned in to the debate, in which Abascal was confident, relaxed, looked his opponents directly in the eye and exuded common sense. Millions of Spaniards who had never before seen the Vox leader speak learned first-hand that the party is patriotic, not the fascist threat portrayed by its detractors in the media.
Vox (based on the Latin word for voice) describes itself as a socially conservative political project aimed at defending traditional Spanish values from the challenges posed by mass migration, multiculturalism and globalism. Vox's foundational mission statement affirms that the party is dedicated to constitutional democracy, free-market capitalism and the rule of law. In foreign policy, Vox is pro-Israel, pro-American and pro-NATO. Party leaders have called for Spain to double its defense spending to meet its commitments to the transatlantic alliance. In domestic policy, Vox's stated priority is to enact constitutional reforms aimed at preventing the territorial disintegration of Spain from threats by Basque nationalism and Catalan separatism.
Vox says that it is "a movement created to put the institutions of government at the service of Spaniards, in contrast to the current model that puts Spaniards at the service of the politicians." Its mission statement says:
"Vox is the common-sense party, which gives voice to what millions of Spaniards think in their homes; the only party that fights against suffocating political correctness. Vox does not tell Spaniards how they should think, speak or feel. We tell the media and the parties to stop imposing their beliefs on society.
"Our project is summed up in the defense of Spain, of the family and of life; in reducing the size of the state, guaranteeing equality between Spaniards and expelling the government from your private life.... Our discourse stems from our convictions, regardless of whether they are more or less popular. In short, Vox is the party of a living Spain, free and brave.
A 100-point electoral program shows that Vox is not "far right" or "extreme right" but rather a traditional conservative party. Vox's electoral program includes the following policy proposals:
- Spanish Unity and Sovereignty: Implement a series of legal measures aimed at ending Catalan separatism; provide "maximum legal protection" to national symbols and emblems, especially the flag, the national anthem and the Spanish Monarchy; create a comprehensive plan for the education, dissemination and protection of national identity and Spain's contribution to civilization and universal history, "with special attention to the deeds and feats of our national heroes."
- Immigration: Deport illegal immigrants; deport legal immigrants who commit serious crimes in Spain; increase the legal penalties for those involved in people smuggling; increase the language and integration requirements for the acquisition of Spanish nationality; and adapt immigration quotas to the needs of the Spanish economy.
- Defense, Security and Borders: Close all mosques that adhere to Wahhabism, Salafism of other fundamentalist interpretation of Islam; require Islamic leaders in Spain to collaborate with Spanish authorities to detect Islamic radicals; prohibit the teaching of Islam in public schools; include in national crime statistics data about the nationality and countries of origin of offenders.
- Economy and Resources: Reduce public spending; eliminate redundant government positions or organizations; reduce income taxes; introduce a flat tax; eliminate inheritance taxes; improve the tax situation for families with one or more children; promote the reindustrialization of Spain; make it easier to open new businesses by reducing red tape.
- Healthcare: Eliminate free healthcare for illegal immigrants and require co-payments for anyone who has lived in Spain for less than ten years.
- Europe and Abroad: Promote a new European treaty along the lines defended by the Visegrad Group of countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) in terms of borders, national sovereignty and respect for the values of European culture; increase the weight of Spain in EU decision-making; reduce the EU budget; promote bilateralism in international relations; withdraw from supranational organizations if they are contrary to the interests of Spain; creation of an agency to help threatened Christian minorities, imitating the initiative of Hungary.
Vox's growing appeal also rests on the fact that it is the only political party in Spain fundamentally to reject political correctness. Vox leaders speak with a frankness and clarity of conviction long unheard of in multicultural Spain.
"We are neither a fascist party, nor the extreme right, nor do we eat children, nor are we totalitarians," Ortega Smith recently said in an interview with the Espejo Público television program. "We are the only party that is defending the constitution and democracy [against Catalan separatists]."
Vox could best be described as "civilizationist," a term coined by historian Daniel Pipes to describe parties that "cherish Europe's and the West's traditional culture and want to defend it from assault by immigrants aided by the left." In an essay titled, "Europe's Civilizationist Parties," Pipes wrote:
"Civilizationalist parties are populist, anti-immigration, and anti-Islamization. Populist means nursing grievances against the system and a suspicion of an elite that ignores or denigrates those concerns....
"Civilizationist parties, led by Italy's League, are anti-immigration, seeking to control, reduce, and even reverse the immigration of recent decades, especially that of Muslims and Africans. These two groups stand out not because of prejudice ('Islamophobia' or racism) but due to their being the least assimilable of foreigners, an array of problems associated with them, such as not working and criminal activity, and a fear that they will impose their ways on Europe.
"Finally, the parties are anti-Islamization. As Europeans learn about Islamic law (the Shari'a), they increasingly focus on its role concerning women's issues, such as niqabs and burqas, polygamy, taharrush (sexual assault), honor killings, and female genital mutilation. Other concerns deal with Muslim attitudes toward non-Muslims, including Christophobia and Judeophobia, jihadi violence, and the insistence that Islam enjoy a privileged status vis-à-vis other religions."
Addressing voters after the November 10 election results, Abascal said:
"For us, the main urgency today, beyond debates about electoral acts, is to demand from the government the complete restoration of the constitutional order in Catalonia and the return of freedom to millions of Catalans who feel kidnapped by a separatist coup that acts with impunity....
"We estimate that approximately 300,000 Spaniards who voted for the Socialist Party on April 28 have now opted for Vox. These results make Vox a true containment dike and a hope for millions of Spaniards. The containment dike is against Catalan separatism and against the totalitarian legislation of the progressives who, for the first time in a long time, will have a firm opposition and close vigilance."
A Spanish political commentator called "Elentir" wrote about the significance of Vox's electoral success:
"Some thought that the progressive dictatorship had no turning back, that little or nothing could be done in the face of the imposition of gender ideology and the culture of death, in the face of the efforts of the big parties to impose a social-democratic consensus that puts an increasing share of our wealth in the hands of politicians, in the face of multiculturalism and illegal immigration, in the face of a leftist feminism that criminalizes males, and in the face of an absurd territorial model that has put the necessary resources in the hands of separatists to break our national unity. A handful of brave men, however, kept the flame of hope burning and refused to surrender. They decided to do what until then was a taboo in public life: to engage in a battle of ideas against this progressive dictatorship....
"The rise of Vox began with the 12 deputies elected in the Andalusian elections in December 2018. In April 2019, Vox won 24 seats in Parliament becoming the fifth-largest political force in all of Spain. Today Vox has achieved what only a year ago seemed impossible: to become the third-largest force. And it does so by overcoming the barrier of the 50 deputies.
"This number is not trivial. According to Article 162 of the Constitution, the number of 50 deputies enables a party to present resources for unconstitutional actions. If with 24 deputies Vox already made themselves felt considerably in the Congress of Deputies, with their current strength they will have a very important role in Spain's national life. Thanks to those resources, Vox will be able to start acting before the Constitutional Court against the laws that threaten our rights and freedoms.
"Long live Spain!"