Spain elects a record number of nationalists amid a slim socialist majority

In the latest nationalist surge across Europe, Spain’s Vox Party earned record gains in last week’s election, where voter turnout reached a record high of 76 percent – up from 67 percent from the previous general election – as the governing Socialists struggled to hold on to power.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) won 122 of the 350 seats in Spain’s Congress of Deputies, leading all other parties but failing to win a parliamentary majority. Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will now need to negotiate a coalition, likely including Pablo Iglesias’ Podemos party, which won 42 seats, and will still require support from other parties to form a 176-seat majority. This is the third national election in four years, after the first two eroded the decades-long dominance of the two biggest parties, the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party (PP). The PP won only 66 seats compared to the 137 seats won last election in June 2016.

PM Sanchez had called for the snap general elections in February after failing to pass his 2019 budget. He had said he hoped the election would provide a parliamentary majority to allow him to pass social and political reforms. Yet the election was dominated by cultural values and national identity rather than the economy, and the campaign by the nationalist Vox Party was marked by passionate reference to Spain’s history, customs and survival as a nation.

The country’s fragmented conservative vote is coalescing with Vox (Latin for ‘voice’), which won 24 seats in the election and became the first nationalist party to win more than a single seat since the country returned to democracy in 1975. Vox was founded in 2013 by former Popular Party members, which had been the country’s traditional political defender of right-wing values. On election night Vox official Rocio Monasterio said, “They said it was impossible for us to get here, and we’ve done it.”

Vox held rallies in Madrid and Valencia in the face of its exclusion from two televised debates between the main party leaders, supposedly on the grounds of it having no deputies yet in parliament. Google noted search enquires for Vox were three times higher than searches for the Socialists or PP. At a Barcelona rally, Vox’s leader Santiago Abascal told supporters to forget about tactical voting and just back the party that best matches their political convictions, saying the “cowardly right-wing has abandoned you. We need a radical change. Vox has come to defend Spain above all else.”

Vox was formed to defend traditional Spanish values from “left-wing extremists” such as Socialist PM  Sanchez and separatists in Catalonia and the Basque region. During the Catalan crisis of October 2017 Vox was catapulted to prominence and wants Catalonia’s regional government abolished as part of a sweeping recentralization of power. Vox defends traditional hunting and bullfighting while arguing that the gender equality laws brought in by the Socialists have led to discrimination against men.

Vox leaders say Madrid should give priority to immigrants from Latin America who share cultural ties and values with Spaniards. The party advocates building a border wall around Spain’s North African enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta to keep out illegal immigrants coming through Morocco.

Vox doesn’t share the euroskepticism of the continent’s other right-wing populists, but Mr. Abascal has engaged with France’s Marine Le Pen and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, recently met with the leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party Jaroslaw Kaczynski to discuss “alliances to defend the only possible Europe, one based on the respect of its sovereign states and the Christian cultural roots,” he said.