After recent elections in the Spanish region of Castilla y León (CyL), a coalition between the center-right People’s Party (PP) and VOX seemed like the obvious outcome. The PP had already been governing this region, in coalition with its junior partner, the liberal-centrist Ciudadanos, but decided to call for early elections in hopes of a clearer mandate that would allow it to do without coalition partners altogether. The results, however, have weakened, rather than strengthened, its position, as it received less votes than in the previous elections, albeit also sinking Ciudadanos, an unreliable coalition partner, whose share of the electorate has collapsed. The most striking result of the elections, however, has been to vastly strengthen the hand of VOX, who the PP now needs in order to govern.
VOX has not yet laid out what it will require from the PP in order to join them, but it has specified that its willingness to do so will center on industry, rural, and natalist policy, as well as circumventing certain legislation, including checking the involvement of LGBTQ lobbies in the educational system.
For their part, the Socialists (PSOE), who are currently in power at the national level, have made it clear that they will block any coalition that includes VOX. They will only abstain from voting against the investiture of the PP candidate in CyL if VOX is excluded from the regional government. This means the PP would have to govern in a minority position, constantly negotiating with a host of smaller parties, which is hardly viable. To make matters worse, the PSOE’s condition extends to all of Spain, meaning that the PP will have to break ties with VOX everywhere (it does not govern in coalition with VOX in any region, but does rely on VOX’s abstention in order to do so in a few theaters).
This is more or less what the PP’s national leadership wants. The prospect of entering into a coalition with VOX, especially serving as precedent for a future national government, seems to loom unhappily on PP President Pablo Casado’s horizon. He has repeatedly implied that his intention is to seek a German-style Große Koalition with the Socialist party. Indeed, one gets the sense that Casado’s PP is not designed to win elections, but to maintain its posts and get along with the PSOE.
The Castilla y Leon candidate for the PP, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, however, may want to break with this strategy for the sake of his political future, as there is every indication that PP voters will punish their party for kowtowing to the government, and the CyL elections have shown that the current direction the party is taking is costing it votes.
Despite needing VOX, we know that there has been no direct contact between Casado and its leader, Santiago Abascal, since the latter organized a motion of no confidence in the present government, which the PP voted against. VOX lost its motion of no confidence, as expected (although, as an aside, in the history of Spanish democracy, every party that has invoked this parliamentary instrument, successfully or otherwise, has entered government after the following elections). What had not been expected, however, was Casado’s speech. The PP leader’s strongly worded and somewhat extemporaneous attack on VOX seemed to mark a nearly complete rupture between the two parties.
And yet, the result could not have been more beneficial to the right. For a time, the polls showed a consistent growth in support for both VOX and the PP. The center-right seems to have garnered potential voters from the death throes of Ciudadanos, and VOX is swelling with the PP’s disaffected conservative base.
Ciudadanos, for its part, has not been able to pivot its voter base in turn, which it might have done by appealing to the social democratic voters of the PSOE, now largely abandoned by their party’s oscillation between Podemos-style quasi-Marxist rhetoric and corporate HR wokeism. Instead, the liberal-left platform preferred to ally with the Socialists, presenting its own motions of no confidence in the various regional fiefdoms where it governed jointly with PP, in order to force a change of government.
The strategy has proven disastrous. There seems little incentive in voting for a party that cannot clearly differentiate itself from the PSOE. By working for (not really with) a party that governs in coalition with separatists (including unrepentant ex-ETA members), Ciudadanos lost its raison d’être, having originated in Catalonia to oppose secessionism. Indeed, a hardline defense of Spanish unity from a pro-EU, socially liberal outlook constituted its entire brand.
Not only did its repeated attempts to dissolve regional governments—in ways that would strengthen the PSOE’s hand—alienate voters who thought they had found a liberal, left-leaning alternative to the socialist-party in Ciudadanos, but it galvanized political opponents, among them the charismatic politician from Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso. She came out of the regional elections in Madrid, which Ciudadanos pushed for in May of 2021, with a commanding majority few had foreseen, thwarting the attempt to hobble together a regional Ciudadanos-PSOE coalition.
And this was not all she had thwarted, at least in the eyes of her party’s leadership. Its plans for a moderate, green, socially-progressive Right, open to the government’s demands (in terms of assignment of judges, key government positions, and so on), had apparently also been severely impaired by the success of a figure far more opposed to the PSOE’s policies than her party seems to be.
Casado had been incapable of generating the kind of enthusiasm that now accompanies Ayuso, highlighting just how misaligned the PP is with its voters. No number of refugees from Ciudadanos, a party that, when all is said, was always relatively small, would make up for the loss of conservatives if candidates like Ayuso ever left. Granted, some voters are prudent conservatives, afraid of dividing the right by voting for VOX, attached to long-standing, stable parties, but they are nonetheless thirsty for a change of direction. Still, for now, the demise of Ciudadanos works in favor of the PP. Ciudadanos did not only bleed voters, but key positions as well, with many of them joining the PP (prominently so in Madrid). Others have left politics in disappointment.
Just as the Socialists and Ciudadanos miscalculated in Madrid, Casado’s PP did so at the national level by essentially starting a war of attrition against Ayuso, presumably believing it would be easy to sweep her away, having somehow concluded that her victory was not really hers, but the party’s. Poll after poll would now begin to expose their mistake, to the point of endangering what had seemed a fait accompli: the PP’s coming electoral victory against the Socialists.
And yet, in spite of it all, the center-right decided to double-down. The PP would now organize early elections in Castilla y Leon, where it governed together with Ciudadanos. The region is traditionally conservative, and surely—thought the PP’s leadership—its coalition partner was sufficiently exhausted that its former supporters could be counted on to switch their vote to the PP. The Left, for its part, is generally weak and burnt-out from Sánchez’s disastrous administration, and VOX is barely present at all. A solid center-right victory, like that of Ayuso, but without Ayuso—without a firebrand at odds with the PP’s leadership—would get the party back on track and generate confidence in Casado. This is what the elections in CyL were meant to accomplish (although Ayuso did contribute to the PP’s regional campaign)
In terms of the situation in CyL and what it might augur, these elections have confirmed what many suspect: the kind of people who voted for Ayuso in Madrid would, in large part, just as soon vote for VOX, and did not do so only because they found a PP candidate who had sufficiently distinguished herself from what they took to be the establishment right. The split between a weak PP majority and a hugely expanded VOX base in CyL is likely to be precisely the composition of Ayuso’s supporters in Madrid, rather than a pro-conservatismTM voter, hoping for a grand coalition with the Socialists, as Casado might have thought.
In fact, for the PP, the situation is likely worse than this. Many of its voters are probably afraid of dividing the right in a time of crisis, believing the talking-point that a vote for VOX is ultimately wasted, but otherwise more or less ideologically aligned with it. The less of a “wasted vote” VOX comes to represent in the eyes of PP voters—which being part of a regional coalition government goes a long way to accomplishing—the more VOX will grow on the back of a dwindling PP. This is not only due to ideological affinity meeting political utility. There is also the inherent attraction generated by a winning horse. The better one does, the more support one can marshal through mere momentum.
The recent rise of provincial political platforms, sometimes referred to as “La España Vaciada,” has had a clear impact on Castilla y Leon, a region that includes two such platforms (in Soria and Palencia), one of which got into the regional parliament. However, this does not seem to have hurt VOX, which received the best results in CyL ever, and a higher percentage of that region’s electorate than during the national elections, which is the first time this has happened. In fact, this rise of “political provincialism” may have functioned to highlight some of VOX’s central talking-points, to do with its opposition to separatism as well as its call for a general restructuring of local competences. In terms of the former, the use of the threat of secession by certain regional parties to lobby for a disproportionate share of resources from the state (to the detriment of others), has led to some of those provinces that are deprived the most by this dynamic to create local parties, hoping to guarantee a fair share for their constituents.
In terms of a general restructuring, VOX has used the grievances of the provinces to emphasize the need to stop regional centralization and instead decentralize competences down to the provincial level. This will allow disadvantaged provinces to reap more benefits, while also avoiding the kind of hypertrophic regional administration that seeks to compete with the central state, be it through the threat of secession or otherwise. Whereas many of the initiatives now covered under the official “La España Vaciada” umbrella seem to partly serve as an instrument of electoral engineering to counter VOX’s drive to woo rural voters, if CyL is to serve as an indication, this is not currently working, and the prominence of the plight of rural provinces in political discourse may have the opposite effect.
As for what has caused the various misalignments between party and voter we have recently seen, one prominent factor is that of foreign political directives. There is nothing indigenous about the 2030 Agenda or woke neologisms. Those who genuinely believe in these will simply vote for their most obvious mainstays, namely the PSOE or Podemos, rather than the PP. Furthermore, these represent a shrinking electorate, for it is certainly a lot easier to believe the EU and UN’s plan for economic sustainability and a green transition when energy prices are not at a record high, when quarantines have not drained one’s bank account, and basic freedoms have not gone through a protracted period of apparently discretional suppression.
Finally, we should highlight that the “civil war” in the PP has reached new heights since the CyL elections, after it emerged that the party was investigating Ayuso and her family, no doubt motivated by their political disagreements with her. The scandal is already having an impact on the polls, to the detriment of the PP, and to the resounding benefit of Ayuso and VOX. It once seemed that, if VOX was to affect Spanish political life beyond pressuring the PP to align with its own electorate rather than simply offering up whatever the Socialists do, but with a five year delay (the way it fully endorses gay marriage and does nothing on abortion today), then it would have to seek greater transversality (appealing to elements of the left). Given the PP’s self-immolation, however, this might not be necessary: the center-right may be serving up its electoral base to VOX. There will now be something of an internal transition within the PP soon, and its believability in the eyes of voters will determine the party’s future.
Carlos Perona Calvete is a writer for The European Conservative. He has a background in International Relations and Organizational Behavior, has worked in the field of European project management, and is currently awaiting publication of a book in which he explores the metaphysics of political representation.