MANY SPANIARDS once assumed that their country was immune to the right-wing populism that has swept across Europe. The dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which ended in 1975, inoculated them, they thought. When voters were angry, they backed populists of the left, such as Podemos, a Leninist-Peronist outfit. Yet that immunity, if it ever existed, is over. At a regional election in Andalusia on December 2nd Vox, a newish populist party of the right, won 11% of the vote. Spaniards are shocked.
Founded in 2013, Vox opposes immigration and feminism, and is Eurosceptic. It wants to abolish regional governments and parliaments (including the one in Andalusia in which it now has 12 out of 109 seats) and make Spain a centralised unitary state, as it was under Franco. Its success, which was hailed by Marine Le Pen of France’s National Rally, means the far right is represented in a Spanish parliament for the first time since 1982.
Rather than a franquista throwback, Vox is mainly a breakaway from the mainstream conservative Peoples’ Party (PP). Until September 2017 it had fewer than 3,500 members. Two things have propelled its growth. First was the attempt last autumn by Catalan separatists to declare independence, threatening the unity of Spain. The second is a rise in illegal immigration. Some 50,000 mainly African migrants have arrived so far this year, most in Andalusia.
The Socialists, who form the minority government in Madrid, did poorly in Andalusia, normally their stronghold, making it less likely that the new prime minister will now risk early general elections. As for Vox, it will now expect to do well in the European elections in May. In that, as in other respects, Spain is now a normal European country.