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
Part 2 - The COVID-19 Crisis as Opportunity
In this, the right-wing parties have pursued a twofold strategy.
First, the resort to and misuse of the legal system as a stick with which to beat the government, inspired by similar recent maneuvers in Brazil and Argentina.
Second, the imitation of the tactics of the US protesters who denounce the lockdown as tyrannical. This has inspired rallies against the lockdown in neighborhoods like Salamanca — the wealthiest in Madrid — and Vox’s car rally in the capital on May 23.
This has largely played out as a clash between central and regional authorities, controlled by different forces; indeed, Madrid’s regional government, led by Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the PP, has established itself as the leading voice of the opposition.
This clash began already back on March 14, when the Sánchez government approved the first “state of emergency,” placing Spain in one of the world’s tightest lockdowns. Yet from the beginning, the government’s opponents assailed it for its delay in rolling out robust measures to fight the virus, and for allowing huge rallies across the country on March 8 to mark International Women’s Day.
This was not the only criticism. For their part, the regional governments of Catalonia and the Basque Country claimed that the central government’s measures could undermine their autonomy over matters like health, security, and transport, decentralized to regional administrations in the 1980s and 1990s.
The radicalization of the PP and Vox, which both aspire to the recentralization of Spain, fueled the fears of the Basque and Catalan executives that the state of emergency, and the powers the central government acquired during it, could in the future undermine the system of regional government based on autonomous comunidades.
At first, the PP-Vox opposition to the government’s response was undermined by the toll the coronavirus took on their own ranks. The Madrid PP’s Isabel Díaz Ayuso gave an interview criticizing the government in which she herself showed symptoms of COVID-19. After denying it, she indeed tested positive and self-isolated for two weeks — in a sumptuous Madrid hotel suite at a generously discounted rate. Likewise, the Vox second-in-command Javier Ortega Smith tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a gathering of the Vox faithful in Madrid (the very same date as the International Women’s Day rally!) while already showing symptoms.
Yet these parties are clearly on the offensive. Indeed, even faced with the radicalization of the Right, during the first month of the pandemic some media suggested the solution lay in a “government of national unity” between the PP, PSOE, and Cs. Such a proposal amounted to expelling Unidas Podemos from the ruling coalition and putting an end to its left-wing policies. This was a nonstarter, however: not only did Sánchez oppose this, but so did the PP’s leader Pablo Casado. Vox, for its part, launched a social media campaign suggesting that Spain was ruled by “irresponsibles” who were “murdering innocent Spaniards.”