Castile and León will no longer be the only Spanish region that is governed by a coalition between the center-right People’s Party (PP) and the Vox conservatives. After the PP’s victory in many regions and municipalities, albeit short of an absolute majority, and Vox’s strong progression in the May 28 elections, the Spanish center-right has no choice but to negotiate new coalitions with a party it has been demonizing for years.
With parliamentary elections due to take place at the national level on July 23 and opinion polls showing that the PP is very unlikely to obtain an absolute majority in the Congress of Deputies, it could enjoy a comfortable majority together with the party of Santiago Abascal. Given the current electoral reality, forming coalitions with the left or even minority governments with the left’s support to keep the traditional “cordon sanitaire” in place around Vox is the worst of all options for Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s PP. Hence, after July 23, Spain is likely to be the next Western European country, after Sweden, Finland and Italy, where a right-wing, sovereignist, anti-mass immigration party is in government.
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Due to the Spanish system of autonomous communities, i.e., regions with a lot of autonomy to govern themselves, negotiations to form governing coalitions are conducted locally, with some PP leaders having struck deals very fast. Others, like the PP leader of the Extremadura region, find it hard to understand that it is no longer useful or productive to demonize Vox and insult its members and voters to please the mostly left-leaning mainstream media — what has essentially been going on for years in France regarding Marine Le Pen’s National Rally.
In mid-June, the Valencia region was among the first where the local PP and Vox struck a deal after years of a coalition government between the left and the far left. With the PP having won 35 percent of the popular vote and Vox 12 percent, together they have an absolute majority in the regional parliament. Their government program clearly bears the imprint of Vox, with the struggle against “gender-based violence” being refocused to intra-familiar violence in general, with planned tax cuts, and the possibility for parents to refuse that their children participate at school in classes provided by external actors. The new government of the Valencia autonomous community also plans to take measures to favor more births instead of more immigration.
In that government, Vox holds the portfolios of justice, interior affairs, culture, and agriculture. The region’s president, who heads the regional government, is the local PP leader while the parliament’s speaker is now a deputy from Vox.
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The region’s PP president, Carlos Mazón, has said he is very satisfied with the deal struck with Vox and has promised stable governments for the region, saying in the media: “We don’t like sanitary cordons.”
However, not all within the PP have come to terms so easily with the new political reality created by Vox’s emergence on the party’s right, due to its own shift to the left in the previous decade under former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
At the other end of the PP’s political spectrum is the region of Extremadura, bordering Castile and León to the north. In Extremadura, the local PP leader, María Guardiola, whose list came only second to the socialist party (PSOE) on May 28 but could have an absolute majority with the support of Vox, said right after the regional elections that Vox should support her election by the regional parliament as the region’s president. She added, however, that her red line was that a party like Vox which, according to her, denies there is such a thing as male violence (Vox is against having special laws for violence committed by men against women, which it sees as treating men as criminals, per se, and as discriminating against men), criminalizes migrants by speaking out against illegal immigration and throws LGBT flags in the garbage.
So, with this very left-leaning PP leader in Extremadura, the role of speaker of the regional parliament fell back to the socialists. This was when Guardiola began to understand she was not going to govern at all and will probably have to face a repeat of the elections soon, probably with many PP voters unimpressed by her defense of illegal immigrants and LGBT flags. Although the national PP leader, Núñez Feijóo, said regional sections of the party are free to negotiate their own agreements with whoever they like, he had good reasons to worry, as Guardiola was sowing doubt over what kind of coalition the PP could form after the July 23 national election and whether voting for the PP would mean voting for the right or the left.
“Does anyone vote for the PP because of the LGBT flag?” asked center-right daily newspaper El Mundo’s columnist on June 21. The answer is probably hardly anyone.
Facing growing unease within her party, just seven days after she had lost control of the parliament’s presidency to the socialists because of her inability to negotiate with Vox, Guardiola thus had to call a meeting with the PP leadership in Extremadura to explain her stance in front of unhappy participants.
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After that, things have been evolving in a different direction this week, with Guardiola finally understanding that if she is to maintain the “cordon sanitaire” against Vox in Extremadura, she will not get the region’s top job.
So she acknowledged publicly that “respect, dialogue and programmatic agreement” with Vox is “essential” and that both parties, the PP and Vox “have to understand each other and build an alternative.”
Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, sees this as a positive step, leaving the door open to negotiations with the PP. Referring to the current government coalition of the socialists and the far left supported by several regional separatist parties in parliament, Abascal said: “What is important now is Spain, what is important now for us is July 23 and to throw out of the Moncloa Palace those who have become a danger to Spain and have incorporated into the leadership of the state all the enemies of the constitutional order and the unity of Spain.”
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On June 27, after a first round of real discussions with Vox, the PP leader in Extremadura said she is convinced both parties will find an agreement and that “Vox is a constitutional party with which (she wants) to strike a deal.”
“We are parties that are different and on many occasions do not share ideas and visions, but I believe that in a moment like this, which is decisive for Spain, it is more important to meet despite the discrepancies,” said Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the Madrid regions’ charismatic PP leader who obtained an absolute majority on May 28, in an interview with El Mundo published on June 25.
Meanwhile, the PP leader in another region, Murcia, is still insisting he does not want to have Vox in his regional government although he is two seats short of a majority in the region’s parliament. In Murcia, the PP obtained 43 percent of the popular vote and Vox 18 percent, and at least two deputies from Vox would have to abstain for him to be voted into office. However, Vox has said that short of an agreement on a governing coalition, they will vote against him, and that, based on their earlier bad experience in supporting a PP government in Murcia from the outside, they will not be satisfied with an agreement on a common program, as they know it will not be executed by the PP once a government is formed.
But contrasting with Guardiola in Extremadura, the PP leaders in Murcia have refrained from demonizing Vox in their political discourse, and negotiations are still going on between the PP and Vox in two other regions: the Balearic Islands and Aragon, where MPs from Vox have been elected speakers of the regional parliaments with support from the PP as part of pre-agreements.
Ahead of the July 23 elections which the Spanish right is almost certain to win, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the PP leader at the national level, has now ended the “cordon sanitaire” surrounding Vox officials, noting that the consequence of such a “cordon sanitaire” is that even when Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE party does not win an election, the PP cannot strike coalition deals with anyone and the election has to be repeated.
This is all the more true that the PP’s previous frequent coalition partner, the centrist party Ciudadanos (Citizens), has now almost completely disappeared from the Spanish political scene and will not take part in the July 23 election. So the “cordon sanitaire” is no longer acceptable in Feijóo’s eyes. “We are not going to receive any lessons on [coalition] pacts,” Feijóo has said, adding: “And certainly not from those who made the (current) ‘Frankenstein’ pact, as the socialists themselves call it, which consists of making a pact with the greatest populism and extremism in Europe, Podemos, which has changed its name and is now called Sumar, alongside the Basque and Catalan independence advocates, who are against maintaining the nation. Such a pact does not exist in any other country in Europe.”