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.
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.
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.
“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.
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”.