Abascal and the Torture of Tantalus

Ana I. López Ortega

6 mins - 25 de Julio de 2023, 07:00

All the polls, except those of the reviled CIS of Tezanos, predicted it. And they saw it so clearly, they were so close to it, that the face with which Santiago Abascal appeared to assess the election results barely concealed his astonishment and anger. A fury that served him to fire, without a hint of self-criticism, against everything and everyone, but especially against the Popular Party of Feijóo. Like Tantalus, Abascal felt invited to the banquet of the gods and boasted about it, warning anyone who would listen that without them the dream of the Spanish right was impossible. Because the undisputed success in the past municipal and regional elections was not enough of a prize for a party that, at heart, aims to do away with the autonomous architecture of the State: only the national government allows the implementation of the great regenerationist policies that define Vox in education, social policies, relations with Europe, and the climate agenda. We are talking about a radical change of direction from the liberal policies undertaken alternately by PSOE and PP when they have taken turns in government for more than forty years. And all that vanished last night in front of Abascal’s tantalising gaze, who was unable to quench either his hunger or his thirst for power – real and effective power, the power that only comes from being part of a government that has the Official State Gazette (Boletín Oficial del Estado) at its disposal.

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They saw it so clearly, so close to them, that Vox unambiguously and unabashedly proposed an electoral programme of maximums, in which it spoke of devolution of autonomous competences in education and health, the progressive disappearance of autonomous police forces, the possible illegalisation of political parties that advocated secession, and a populist tax reform that would hardly pass the cotton-wool test of the European tax authority. It is possible that, once in a minority government, many of these ideas would fade into oblivion. Or they might be saved for a not-too-distant future when the numbers make it possible. Inspired by Jorge Buxadé, ideologist of a new national-Catholicism forged in Catholic fundamentalism and the Falange, Vox’s programmatic challenge in these elections aimed, above all, to win the loyalty of its electorate and clearly differentiate its offer from that of the PP. It should not be forgotten that the party was born in 2013 as a counterweight to the continuist policies of a PP led by Rajoy that did not dare to repeal, although it threatened to do so, laws as harmful to the ultra-conservative sector of the right as abortion, gay marriage, or the Law of Historical Memory. In other words, Vox was born with the firm will to force the PP to apply decidedly conservative policies, thus challenging the progressive agenda that was being imposed tacitly and with little conservative resistance.

So close did they see it, so clear to them, that Vox did not mind taking a risk with such an openly reactionary political programme. In the worst-case scenario, they could lose representation, but they would more than compensate for it by being decisive in the Spanish government, the central and almost sole objective of a right-wing obsessed with throwing Pedro Sánchez out of a government presidency that they achieved, in the first instance, thanks to the first successful motion of censure in our democracy. A real curse, an original sin that became mortal and irredeemable every time he made a deal with Bildu and ERC to push through laws and reforms.

However, what they did not see and were not very clear about is what finally happened: that part of their electorate fled to a more pro-possibility PP for the logic of the useful vote, a decisive vector in these elections. Vox has lost more than 600,000 voters compared to November 2019. And, above all, what they did not imagine would happen is that its political programme would exponentially mobilise a left that concentrated its vote because it saw in the retrotopia advocated by Abascal’s party an accelerated regression to the Spain of forty years ago, that authoritarian country in black and white in which the greys imposed their law of the garrotte, censorship still executed its petty cuts and the future of the country was in the hands of the usual medical team. For that was the picture painted by the proposal for a unitary state, decentralised only administratively, which was outlined in Buxadé’s programme.

Vox has undoubtedly been the big loser of these elections. But we would be mistaken if we thought it was definitively dead. It has been jostled, but not sunk, as shown by the more than three million votes it won in these elections, which represent a percentage similar to that of its European co-religionists (12% on average). And it is true that it has lost representation in autonomous communities in which it governs, of great symbolic content, such as Castilla y León, where it has gone from having six to maintaining a single representative. They have also suffered significant losses in Murcia, where they are blocking the formation of a government, in Ceuta and even in Andalusia, which was the first institution they managed to enter in December 2018, which now seems so far away. But in the Valencian Community, for example, where they achieved a very important government agreement in which the PP of Carlos Mazón granted them great rhetorical victories, they have increased by 109,127 votes compared to the regional elections of two months ago. In Catalonia, too, Abascal’s supporters have gained more votes than in the last regional (55,140 more) and general elections (29,383 more).

As happens on most election nights, some parties tend to wake up rudely from their slumber to find themselves in a nightmare or two. It has happened to the right: when they woke up, Sánchez was still there. And with a better chance, albeit a very difficult one, of forming a new majority government. But, although the left has not fully lived the nightmare it feared, it would be making a big mistake if it forgot that, despite the sweet defeat that could turn into an unforeseen success, the elephant is still in the room. Vox has seen a rosy future recede; it is true. Tantalus is wounded and captivated by his own expectations, but not dead. 
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