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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

Spain postpones its EuroMed summit as PM still has Covid

A summit grouping nine southern European countries that was due to take place in Alicante on Friday has been postponed because Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has continued to test positive for Covid-19, his office said Thursday.

Spain postpones its EuroMed summit as PM still has Covid

The EuroMed 9, which groups Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, was to have gathered in the southeastern city of Alicante on September 30th.

Sánchez, who was to host the summit, had on Sunday confirmed having Covid, and by Thursday he was still testing positive, his office said.

“This morning, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez took a diagnostic test and was still positive for Covid-19,” it said.

“As a precaution, the decision has been taken to postpone the MED-9 summit which was going to be held in Alicante tomorrow.”

It did not give a new date for the summit.

Sánchez tested positive several days after flying back from the UN General Assembly in New York.

He has since suspended much of his agenda but has continued attending events online.

Nine heads of state and government had been due to attend Friday’s summit, among them French President Emmanuel Macron and outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU council President Charles Michel were also due to attend for a summit focused on the energy crisis facing Europe as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The EuroMed group was created in 2016 to strengthen the cooperation between Mediterranean and southern EU member states.

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