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How the crisis in Spain’s centre-right party is opening the door to the far right

The big winner of the conflict gripping Spain's Popular Party is Vox, analysts say, urging the right-wing opposition to close ranks or risk the far-right faction becoming the nation's second-largest party.

How the crisis in Spain's centre-right party is opening the door to the far right
Leader of far-right party Vox Santiago Abascal delivers a speech in Madrid. Vox's rising popularity was on show during this month's regional election in Castilla y León. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO/AFP

With a general election on the horizon, Santiago Abascal’s extremist lineup could become Spain’s main opposition party “if the PP doesn’t end its internal crisis properly,” said Astrid Barrio, a political scientist at Valencia University.

At least in the short term, “the biggest beneficiary in political terms is Vox”, which burst onto the political scene less than a decade ago, said Paloma Román, a political science expert at Madrid’s Complutense University.

PP leader Pablo Casado, who just a week ago appeared to be safe in his role, is now counting his final hours as opposition leader after raising explosive corruption allegations about the party’s most popular politician, Madrid’s regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso.

READ MORE: Why is Spain’s right-wing PP accusing their own leader in Madrid of corruption?

But it was a gamble he lost very publicly, and will have to step down at an extraordinary party congress whose date will be set on Tuesday during a meeting of the PP’s steering committee.

Walking a tightrope due to a loss of support within his party, Spain’s right-wing Popular Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado delivered a farewell speech on February 23rd 2022 to the Congress. Photo: DANI DUCH/POOL/AFP

Power struggle

At the congress, party members will chose a new leader, which is likely to be Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, a 60-year-old moderate and party stalwart who currently heads the northwestern Galicia region.

“He’s a candidate who has managed to keep Vox in check in Galicia and the leading advocate of the centrist ideology that has allowed the PP to rule Spain,” said Barrio.

Lluis Orriols, a political scientist at Madrid’s Carlos III University, said there were two factors in the current political crisis that could strengthen Vox.

Firstly, he said, surveys suggested “a large number of defections” from the PP are not people who are “likely to abstain or be undecided (in the next general election), but are turning to Vox”.

And the struggle for dominance of the Spanish right is still unresolved.

Galician regional president Alberto Nuñez Feijóo is likely to replace Casado as PP party leader in the coming months. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

“Vox is not being restrained, unlike on the left where we see the Socialist party in control of the space which runs from the centre to the extreme left,” he said.

“In the electoral ambit of the conservative voter, Vox is clearly very competitive.”

The popularity of Vox was on show during this month’s regional election in Castilla y León, where the party won 13 seats, up from just one in the previous vote, shattering the PP’s hopes of winning an absolute majority.

READ MORE: Spain’s far-right Vox party poised to enter Castilla y León government

The PP has time on its side

But the game is not yet over for the PP.

Despite concerns Sanchez would call early elections to make the most of his rival’s weakness, he ruled out any such move on Wednesday.

“We’re not going to bring forward the general election” on the basis of the PP’s “vulnerability”, he said.

“The rise of extreme parties reduces the incentive for early elections,” wrote Anna-Carina Hamker and Mujtaba Rahman, analysts with the Eurasia Group, in a note on the crisis.

With the next election to be held no later than early 2024, analysts said the PP had time to get its house in order — and could even emerge strengthened.

“I imagine it will fight back, it’s not going to waste the political capital it has built up over such a long period of time, being the governing party that it is,” said Roman.

“Casado’s leadership degenerated a lot and most PP voters had little or no confidence in him,” said Orriols.

However, any new leader will have to restrain the “internal pressures” that have torn the party apart and resolve the battle “between the traditional, mainstream conservatives and the free agents who tend to sympathise with the populist far-right”.

READ ALSO:

A foreigner’s guide to understanding Spanish politics in five minutes

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POLITICS

Qatar emir visits Spain as EU eyes gas alternatives

Qatar's emir began a state visit to Spain on Tuesday as Europe seeks to diversify its natural gas supply sources to reduce its energy dependence on Russia.

Qatar emir visits Spain as EU eyes gas alternatives

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani was welcomed by King Felipe VI at Madrid’s royal palace at the start of his two-day visit, his first to Spain since he ascended the throne in 2013.

The emir, who is accompanied by Qatar’s foreign and energy ministers, is scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday.

Spain and Qatar are expected to sign a dozen economic and commercial contracts during his visit, mainly regarding energy, according to a Spanish government source.

The visit comes as the European Union is aiming to cut its reliance on Russian gas by two-thirds this year due to Russia’s invasion of  Ukraine.

Russia currently supplies around 40 percent of Europe’s gas needs.

Qatar, which has the third-largest natural gas reserves in the world, is currently Spain’s fifth-biggest supplier of natural gas after the United States, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt.

The country accounted for 4.4 percent of Spain’s total gas imports in April and the Spanish government hopes this share could increase.

“We are working closely with out European counterparts” on the long-term supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG), Qatar’s ambassador to Spain, Abdullah Al-Hamar, told Spanish daily 20 Minutos.

The emir of Qatar’s trip to Europe will also include visits to Germany, Britain, Slovenia and Switzerland, where he will attend the World Economic Forum which will run in the mountain resort of Davos from May 22nd-26th.

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