Ever since the PSOE and Unidas Podemos formed a governing coalition in January, Spain’s right-wing opposition has denied its democratic legitimacy. Calls for police mutiny and resistance against the COVID-19 lockdown show how the Spanish right is imitating its Latin American counterparts, seeking to create a climate of chaos that can bring down the government.
by Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz
Spain has been one of the countries hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis. According to the World Health Organization, by mid-May Spain had the fifth-most cases and number of deaths, behind the United States, UK, Italy, and France. At that point, it had a confirmed 232,037 cases — and 28,628 deaths.
But Spain has also been one of the countries where the pandemic has been most strongly politicized. The current government, made up of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and its main ally Unidas Podemos, took form after the November 2019 election; headed by PSOE premier Pedro Sánchez and deputy prime minister Pablo Iglesias, this is the first governing coalition of the Left since before the Civil War of the 1930s.
Yet the conservative People’s Party (PP) and the far-right Vox have unrelentingly refused to accept this government — denying both the legitimacy of the electoral result and the coalition that eventually formed. For the PP and Vox, this government is “undemocratic,” born of an “institutional coup,” and propped up by “separatists” (i.e., the Catalan national parties) and “terrorists” (i.e., Bildu, the left-wing nationalist party in the Basque Country, which mass media usually associate with disbanded terrorist group ETA).
After the no-confidence vote against the last PP premier Mariano Rajoy in June 2018 (the first successful such vote since the return of democracy), the Right has regrouped its forces.
Initially, three parties fought for leadership: the PP, which has adopted more radical positions since Pablo Casado was elected its leader in 2018; Vox, headed by Santiago Abascal; and Ciudadanos (Cs), originally a centrist formation which later moved to the right to compete with these others. But while in November’s election Cs’ vote collapsed, tipping it back toward the center, the PP and Vox have radicalized.
This radicalization owes both to these parties’ competition with each other and their shared aim of tearing down a government they call illegitimate.
Amid the magnitude of the current pandemic, politicians in many countries have often sought consensus, shying from a rhetoric of sharp confrontation. But the PP and Vox have instead seen this crisis as a wonderful opportunity — a chance to topple the PSOE-Podemos government.