Mistakes by conservative Pedro Sanchez helped halt Fox’s career in Spain

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Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s warnings that conservatives and far-right nationalists would drag Spain backwards were far from original in the political campaign lexicon.

But in the weeks leading up to Sunday’s vote, the conservative opposition People’s Party and Vox’s Radicals gave real-world examples in local government of how they dealt with coalitions. And a large number of voters did not like what they saw.

As a result, the People’s Party did not win as many seats in Parliament as had been expected, and Vox lost a third of its share, leaving the right-wing bloc without a majority to form a government. Sánchez and his party ally Sumar also failed, leaving Spain in a bind.

But the prime minister claimed one achievement: he stopped the far right’s march across Europe. “The reactionary bloc, which has proposed the total abolition of all the advances we have made over the past four years, has failed,” he told his supporters jubilantly.

This is a far cry from May, when Alberto Núñez Fijo’s People’s Party inflicted such a humiliating defeat on Sánchez in the municipal and regional elections that he decided to take a gamble by calling snap general elections. The People’s Party had hoped to ride the same wave to victory in the July poll, which coincided with seasonal beach holidays.

But she has struggled with her collaboration with the Vox party, which is hostile to green energy, multiculturalism, and feminism. Since the People’s Party failed to achieve a legislative majority in May, it needed to ally itself with Vox in several regions of Spain and 140 municipalities to form coalition governments.

Analysts said the messy outcome of these coalitions — which included banning LGBT+ flags, culture wars on stage and closing bike lanes — had two effects.

This turned out to be a huge motivator for many voters on the left, including those disillusioned with Sanchez’s divided coalition government who would have stayed home or supported the People’s Party. It also dampened the enthusiasm of some centre-right People’s Party voters who already had misgivings about Vox.

The People'S Party Of Alberto Núñez Figo, Center, Waves During An Election Night Rally In Madrid On Sunday

Alberto Nunez Figo’s People’s Party disappointed expectations in Sunday’s vote, coming in first with 136 seats but falling short of a ruling majority. © Paul Hanna / Bloomberg

As a result, with no caucus gaining a majority in the 350-seat Congress, Spain faces weeks of chaotic bargaining with smaller parties – or a re-election.

José Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that while Figo has a reputation as an understated but highly competent manager, one of his big mistakes was failing to set limits on any agreements with Vox on his way to the premiership. “Then, to make matters worse, his erratic decisions ended up digging in the road,” he said.

The People’s Party thrust into a quick coalition deal with Vox in the Valencia region, where a far-right official claimed “violence against women does not exist” and Figo was forced to veto the role of Vox’s regional leader because he was convicted of “psychological violence” against his ex-wife.

In the Balearic Islands, the two parties agreed to a 110-point program with the proviso that Vox abstained from an inauguration vote so that the People’s Party could govern on its own. In Extremadura in western Spain, the leader of the regional People’s Party refused to consider any deal with Vox, only to reverse course and form an alliance that gave the ultra-conservatives control over rural affairs, including hunting and bullfighting.

“It may have been in Extremadura where Feijóo discredited himself to convince undecided socialist voters and would-be abstentionists that he would have the vision and power to distance himself from Vox,” Torreblanca added.

For Sanchez, whose optimistic message about the economy did not resonate with voters, PP-Vox’s regional governments’ decisions to abolish the environment and equality departments helped underline the prime minister’s warnings that the right-wing National Alliance would “take us into a dark time.”

Ipsos pollster José Pablo Ferrández pointed out other errors in the PP campaign, including Figo’s refusal to attend a second televised debate with Sánchez, in which the prime minister sparred with Vox leader Santiago Abascal.

“Figo’s absence from the debate meant that the visible face of the expected conservative coalition was Vox, the far right,” he said. “This led to the layoff of an important part of the center-right electorate and affected the People’s Party.”

PP’s result of 136 seats was a huge improvement over the 89 it received in 2019, but it was less than it would have wanted.

Vox’s penetration in the last election debunks the notion that Spain is immune to the rise of the far-right by Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. But after Sanchez lost a third of her seats on Sunday, she proved that, for now, she can only get so far.

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