Is there a counter-revolution brewing in Spain?

A week before the Spanish elections, Prime Minister Sánchez is trying to mobilise the left and centrist voters by threatening the allegedly misogynist, fascist Vox party. He is being echoed by foreign experts. Paul Kennedy, on the website of the London School of Economics, hails the arrival of a 'Francostein' cabinet.

23 July, the day of the general elections, is, according to the opposition, the date of the validity of the socialist government of Pedro Sánchez in Spain. A liar, a narcissist, an unscrupulous politician, this is what is said in the peninsula about the current Prime Minister. A columnist for the liberal portal El Confidencial compared Sánchez and his style of governance called 'sanchismo' to a dragon with seven heads, crushing the truth and subjugating all institutions.

The polls don't give him a chance either, except perhaps with CIS, the pollster run by the Prime Minister's colleague. Even the left-friendly foreign media expect Spain to join Italy and Finland, which are gradually dragging Europe to the right, after the elections. But do the liberals and socialists dealing the cards in the Union today really need to fear a political shift in Spain, and will the upcoming elections be anything more than a plebiscite on Sánchez's unpopularity?

Expectations on the right are huge. Santiago Abascal, the Conservative leader of the anti-immigrant Vox party, which according to polls a week before the election is the third political force in Spain, says: "it's now or never". However, there are many unknowns. Not least the questions of how the likely winner, the politically correct centre-right, will behave and whether it is ready for a mésalliance with the conservatives demonised by the left.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE The media have written about the over-saturation of politics - this is, after all, the second election campaign this year. The May clash, in the regions, was won collectively by the right and - as the media speculated - Prime Minister Sánchez has called early elections to stem the tide. In addition, it is the middle of the holidays. Wealthier voters, usually those who vote for more conservative parties, will be lying on the beach rather than queuing at the polls. The chance to try to reverse the far advanced process of making Spain one of the most progressive countries in Europe may therefore be missed.

The most progressive of the progressive

Once Catholic and traditional, Spain is now second to none in terms of the speed with which it introduces left-wing projects. Madrid boasts Europe's largest LGBT parade, and a 2021 YouGov poll shows that of the eight countries surveyed, Spaniards are the most open towards sexual minorities.
On 1 July 2023, Spanish celebrities wait for the LGBT parade in Madrid, one of the largest in Europe. Photo by Javier RamíRez / Zuma Press / Forum
The left has tamed Spaniards with even the most far-reaching ideas. The progressive changes, led by abortion, same-sex marriage and adoption of children by same-sex couples, introduced under José Luis Zapatero, were only a modest beginning. Today, not only do we have abortion on request in Spain, but since February this year, 16-year-olds can also have their pregnancies terminated without asking their parents' consent.

It doesn't stop there. The Sánchez government passed one of the world's most progressive transgender rights laws this year, which allows any teenager over the age of 16 to change his or her gender identity at the registry office, without having to undergo hormone treatment or get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. He does not have to ask his parents' consent either, of course.

June 2021. Spain became the fourth - after the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg - European Union country to allow euthanasia of terminally ill patients, including the handicapped. And, as reported by Polish Press Agency (PAP), the Sánchez government even dealt with the courts, because although there was a requirement in the Autonomous Community of Madrid to obtain court rulings authorising euthanasia in order to prevent possible abuse in care centres, this obligation was resisted and shortly afterwards abolished by a ruling of the Constitutional Court of Spain.

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The period of Sánchez's government has also been a paradise for savage squatters. Dictated by left-wing ideology, the so-called okupas law, under the pretext of protecting the poorest, allows impunity for the unlawful occupation of someone's property. Mafias break into dwellings, occupy them and then make money by renting them out, while the rightful owners are helpless. Many who try to enter their own property end up in jail, while, as the media, including the daily 'El Mundo', warn, changes to housing laws introduced by the government this year are further extending the period of illegal occupation.

The number of illegal migrants is also increasing in Spain. In 2023, more than 40 per cent of arrivals came from Morocco and almost 15 per cent from Algeria. These are Frontex figures because, as the opposition alerts, the Spanish Interior Ministry has been hiding such information for two years. In Spain's 47 million inhabitants, 5.6 million foreigners have already been registered, representing 12 per cent of the entire country's population, including 2 million Muslims, but in practice only Vox opposes mass immigration and warns that one can already speak of the Islamisation of some Spanish regions. In Catalonia, for example, which is governed by a coalition of left-wing and separatist parties, there are already around 300 mosques, and in more than 130 public schools, not only is it not possible to learn Castilian because Catalan is the language of instruction, but there are also classes in Arabic, paid for by the Moroccan authorities.

However, none of these controversial ideas and the effects of the Left's policies have caused such an outcry from the Spanish public as the disastrous law authored by Irene Monteros, Minister for Equality from the Podemos party. There were even protests from feminists, not to mention disputes within the government. The law that so got under the skin of Spaniards included a change in the definition of sexual aggression (known as the 'only yes means yes' law) and instead of, as advertised by the left, protecting women from rape, it led to the early release of around 1,000 sex offenders previously sentenced to many years in prison due to loopholes. Sánchez eventually acknowledged this legislation as a mistake and apologised, but voters gave him the bill during the May elections. The PSOE lost power in almost all local governments. Now it may lose power across the country.

The bland centre-right

For now, polls indicate that the centre-right People's Party (Partido Popular in Spanish, or PP for short), led by technocrat Alberto Núñez Feijóo, who has four electoral victories in Galicia, where he hails from, will receive the most votes in the early elections to the Congress of Deputies on 23 July.

However, to form a majority government - and on this the polls agree - the PP needs the conservative Vox, demonised by the liberal media, the party of Santiago Abascal, a Basque fiercely critical of the separatists and a former PP activist. According to the daily El Mundo, Vox, which first raised the hopes of conservatives in 2018 by winning seats in Andalusia's parliament under slogans of opposition to the mainstream policy of leniency towards the Catalan rebels, has emerged from the shadows into the limelight after the May elections and become a leading actor on the political scene.

A coalition with the Conservatives, offering a chance for decisive change, is what voters tired of the leftist revolution want. The independent rule of the ideologically bland but economically efficient PP does not, according to many commentators, offer such a guarantee. - The PP operates according to the business-as-usual model and Feijóo is a typical mainstream politician, hence the fear among conservative voters that the PP governing alone will be closer to Macron's policies than to any right-wing projects,' Rodrigo Ballester, from the Brussels-based think tank Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), tells TVP Weekly.

Such a French scenario is very likely. In an interview with the conservative portal OKdiario, Feijóo admits that what concerns him about the left-wing policies of the current government is mainly Sánchez's hidden plan to give up to the demands of separatists trying to break Catalonia and the Basque Country away from Spain. At the same time, Feijóo draws red lines that he will not cross in possible talks with Vox: he will not negotiate on violence against women (he is apparently unconcerned by Zapatero's Gender Violence Act, favouring women subjected to violence by the mere fact of being female, which the Conservatives are still unsuccessfully protesting against to this day) and he will not tell the Spanish people that there is no climate change.
Alberto Núñez Feijóo is a typical mainstream politician. Photo Lavandeira jr./EPA/PAP
Feijóo, moreover, makes no secret of the fact that he would prefer to avoid a government coalition with Vox and still hopes for an independent majority. In the same interview with OKdiario, he admits that votes for other groups (including, above all, Vox) are a patent to keep Sanchez in power. Such rhetoric seems to be working, because according to the Spanish media, the Popular Party has managed to stem the exodus of voters to Vox and is now attracting more of them from Vox. It will be difficult for the Abascal's Party to repeat the success of 2019, when it won 52 seats and 15, 1 per cent of the vote.

Another thing is that Feijóo does not definitively rule out a national coalition with Vox. The People's Party is still a long way short, for example, of the result of José Aznar, who took over the Spanish government in 1996 with 156 seats in parliament. Therefore, when asked by the media whether regional pacts with Abascal hurt him, Feijóo says that the PP has the right to conclude agreements with groupings that respect the constitution, presumably with Vox in mind. However, if the PP were only a few votes short of a majority to form an independent government, Vox's role would certainly be marginal. This is the situation in Murcia, where the People's Party fell two percentage points short of a majority, so it did not invite Vox to govern in the region.

In fact, more political options are on the table, including a PP minority government, with the possible support of Vox in votes in the Congress of Deputies, or even a grand coalition with the Socialists in power today. And yet the Spanish left is not laying down its arms either.

"Frankenstein's Cabinet" ready for more

In 2018, when then PP leader Mariano Rajoy resigned, commentators argued that Pedro Sánchez's minority government would not last long. They were wrong. Sánchez does not lack political shrewdness and survival skills. The Socialists are also favoured by a decent economic situation, with inflation below 2 per cent, although the opposition argues that this is just a semblance of prosperity and that in Sánchez's state only bureaucracy is growing.

Perhaps, but Spaniards appreciate its social offerings, and there is even more in the PSOE's election programme, including free university tuition and vocational schools free of charge for those who pass their exams on the first try, and free municipal transport for children and students up to the age of 24, not to mention the promise to abolish waiting lists for surgeries and specialist medical consultations

Sánchez also has a reputation as a politician who, to stay in power, will get along with anyone. In 2019, he formed a coalition with Unidas-Podemos, a grouping that in Poland we would probably call communist, suspected, by the way, of having links with the authorities in Venezuela. For this manoeuvre, his predecessor at the helm of the PSOE called the Sánchez government the 'Frankenstein cabinet'. The name has caught on, but Sánchez is ready for even more anyway.

In June 2021, his government led the pardon of the Catalan putschists of 2017, gaining the support of more than 20 laws in return. This is probably why he did not agree to Feijóo's proposal that the two parties should sign a deal, giving power to the grouping that wins the most votes. According to former prime minister José Maria Aznar, the PSOE is already making a deal with the separatists (from the Bildu and ERC parties). In exchange for Sánchez's support in the new parliament, they are to get permission for referendums in Catalonia and the Basque Country, under the guise of 'social consultation'.
Liar, narcissist, unscrupulous politician, this is how Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is referred to in Spain. Photo: SERGIO PEREZ/EPA/PAP
Prime Minister Sánchez is also adept at exploiting the Left's advantage in imposing a historical narrative. In order to heat up public emotions, a few weeks before the 2019 elections he announced the exhumation of General Franco from the Valley of the Fallen, and he kept his word. He won the People's Party at the time, and the general's remains were moved to the Mingorrubio cemetery near Madrid. This year also saw the start of the exhumation of the 128 civil war victims buried in this mausoleum.

This time, a week before the elections, he is trying to mobilise the left and centrist voters by threatening the allegedly misogynist, fascist Vox. He is, moreover, also being echoed by foreign experts. Paul Kennedy, for example, on the website of the London School of Economics, rallies to the coming of a 'Francostein' government, as the extreme right would enter government for the first time since the death of General Franco in 1975. Left-wing activists are already beginning to react hysterically. The case of a female manager from the telecoms company Orange, who admitted on social media that she wanted to vote for Vox, was recently loud. It ended in petitions to the French demanding her dismissal.

Sánchez hopes that the mantra of joint PP rule with the 'fascists' will stop the exodus of moderate voters from the PSOE to the PP and reduce the right's lead. There is much to fight for, because, as the daily 'El Mundo' wrote on the basis of data from Spain's Central Statistics Office (CIS), more than half a million Spaniards are hesitating whether to vote for the PP or the PSOE, and several per cent of the 37.5 million voters, do not yet know who to vote for at all.

However, Sánchez's strategy may fail in the face of losing the TV debate with Feijóo, the first such media clash between the leaders of the largest two parties in eight years. Sánchez was very cranky, aggressive, interrupted the moderators and failed to show that he is an experienced technocrat with a cool view of reality, which was probably his staff's plan. Even the left-wing daily 'El Pais' wrote about the Prime Minister's poor disposition, warning that by the end of the campaign probably no event would have the same importance as this debate on 10 July.

One gets the impression that on that Monday night Sánchez actually buried the PSOE's chances of successfully chasing the PP. According to a GAD3 poll conducted for the daily 'ABC' and published the day after the debate, the People's Party together with Vox can count on 181 seats in the Congress of Deputies, the lower house of the Spanish, parliament, five more than the absolute majority, while the PSOE and Sumar (Yolanda Díaz's far-left political project, forming an electoral bloc with Izquierda Unida and Podemos, among others) will fall below 140 seats.

The right wing is on a roll. So what could a PP coalition with Vox look like?

How does the right govern in the regions?

Predictions can be made about this based on what is happening in the Spanish regions. In some, Vox and the PP have already built coalitions, but there are local governments where the People's Party expects Vox's support without any concessions to the Conservatives.

In Valencia, Vox is in the regional government with the PP and has one ministry. In the Balearic Islands, the PP got the support of Vox, but the Abascal's party did not enter the regional government. In Extremadura, it took pains but eventually a joint government was formed.Regional cooperation with the Conservatives is already producing its first results. In Valencia, both parties agreed to drop any mention of gender violence or LGBT rights from the programme. In provincial capitals such as Burgos, Toledo, Orihuela and Valladolid, gender equality posts in city councils have been abolished. Similarly, in the Balearic Islands - the equality ministry no longer exists.
Politicians of the centrist People's Party avoid as much as possible the question of a coalition with Santiago Abascal's Vox. Photo: Carlos Barba/EPA/PAP
In turn, the new government of Extremadura is expected to focus on supporting families, fighting unemployment, poverty and tackling the depopulation of the region. The programme document includes a promise of a 'comprehensive tax cut', a defence of hunting and bullfighting, which is so fiercely fought by the left, and the provision of more measures against 'illegal occupation of property'. The coalition government also promised to abolish inheritance and donation tax. Both parties have pledged to guarantee the 'ideological neutrality' of education in the region, recognising the right of parents to decide on their children's education in line with their beliefs. The coalition will also look at forestry policy to allow traditional agricultural activities in the mountains, including livestock farming, which the left, in line with EU green policies, is trying to restrict.

These first signs are giving optimism to Spaniards awaiting change. "The PP, however, wants a coalition with Vox, but it is not talking about it openly right now so as not to scare off moderate voters, especially those who are switching to them from the PSOE," says Rodrigo Ballester, and he expects that on a national level the two parties would easily get along on economic issues. However, he does not rule out that cooperation would also be possible on worldview issues and the PP-Vox government would repeal some of the most shocking laws, such as those on the freedom to change gender, which Feijóo himself recently confirmed, explaining that "legally changing gender shouldn't be easier than getting a driving licence". The right-wing coalition could also, according to Ballester, abandon the failed sexual freedom law ('only yes means yes'). It can also be hoped that the new government would pursue policies that support Castilian, as it is discriminated against in some regions, such as Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Even under the PP government in Galicia, it is difficult to find a job in public institutions without certified knowledge of Galician, as one violin teacher of Polish origin, with 17 years of teaching experience and an excellent education, found out. She speaks Spanish with her pupils, but because of her lack of certified knowledge of Galician, she ended up unemployed.

However, there are issues where coalition harmony may be lacking, above all in what concerns the European Union. The PP is part of the European People's Party in the EP, so it can hardly be counted on to oppose, for example, the migration pact that Poland is fighting against, or further EU ideas to restrict agriculture to defend the climate.

There would also be no agreement on abortion or support for the LGBT community. The PP is also not particularly interested in the issue of mass immigration. This is why Federico Jimenez Losantos, a well-known conservative columnist, author of 'The Return of the Right' and supporter of the formation of a PP-Vox government, is pessimistic. In an interview with the daily 'Independiente', he warns that Feijóo represents a PP faction according to which the left should not be irritated and can govern if the PSOE allows it. In practice, this could mean that the PP will not decide to form an alliance with the economically liberal but traditional worldview Vox, and even if this were to happen, the conservatives would not be able to persuade Feijóo to try to reclaim even a few fields dominated by the left, not to mention any counter-revolution.

Nothing politically incorrect

Although Feijóo weighs his words when asked by the media about a possible coalition with Vox, and in municipalities such as Náquera and Torrijos the new municipal councils governed by the People's Party-Vox have banned rainbow flags, but already Maria Guardiola, prime minister of the PP-Vox government in Extremadura, has made no secret of the fact that the PP will not do anything politically incorrect. Guardiola argues in the media that her government will not deviate even by a millimetre from existing abortion laws and also does not envisage criminalising illegal immigration in any form. In doing so, she emphasises that this is not her opinion but the party's position.

Guardiola's declarations were commented on ElToroTV by José Javier Esparza, journalist and author of 'The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Culture'. In his view, the words of the head of government of Extremadura are living proof of the social democratic consensus and a forecast for the future. "The political right has ceased to differ from the left in the ideological field, there has been a rapprochement between the former liberal-conservative right and the ex-social-democratic left and a political caste has emerged, operating all over the world with the same themes, increasingly distant from the people it is supposed to represent," Esparza explains, leaving no illusions that the People's Party is not up to carrying out a counter-revolution and there will be no earthquake in Spain.

In addition to the indecision within the ranks of the PP over a marriage of convenience with the Abascal's party, which desires a radical departure from left-wing politics, there is another uncertainty making it difficult to assess the Spanish right's chances of success. It is the timing of the election, which, according to the media, will have a major impact on the results. Spaniards have never voted in the middle of summer and, as 'Politico' notes, 10 out of 37 million Spaniards are on holiday at the time and some of them will have to vote by mail. Prime Minister Sánchez's latest dishonest ploy? Feijóo is sure of it.

– Anna Gwozdowska

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Tomasz Krzyżanowski
Main photo: In Madrid, a large banner appeared with pictures of the leaders of the main parties - (from left) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Yolanda Diaz of the left-wing Sumar movement, Santiago Abascal of the Vox party and Alberto Núñez Feijóo of the People's Party - and a question: "Do you care about climate change?". Photo FERNANDO VILLAR/EPA/PAP
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