In a country once considered impervious to far-right politics due to its dictatorial history, far-right populists Vox won 15 percent of the vote in Spain’s recent elections, making it the third largest party in Parliament.
In Murcia it won 3 of 10 regional seats, the only region in which Vox won the most votes (199,440) for a 28 percent share of the vote.
The election results (above) show Murcia was the only region in Spain where Vox won the largest share of the vote.
Vox has faced criticism for reactionary positions on immigration, abortion, gun control and Islam, but it cannot be reasonably suggested that Murcians suddenly, and collectively, veered to the far-right; so what made Murcians vote Vox?
Lourdes Mendez, deputy for Vox Murcia, claimed the result has “proven that Murcia is not happy with the politicians who are representing them in the region”.
Murcia has long been a bulwark for conservative politics; the rise of Vox, therefore, is not symptomatic of an expansion of the rightwing vote but, rather, evidence of traditionally conservative voters becoming disenchanted with mainstream politics and voting Vox instead.
It is important, therefore, not to blindly brand Murcia as a far-right region, but instead to view Vox’s success in the region as a protest vote.
One voter described this as “a vote of punishment” aimed towards mainstream parties incapable of forming a coalition government.
Santiago Abascal performed well in the TV debate. Photo: AFP
This growing frustration with the political process was, for many Murcians, best verbalised by Vox leader Santiago Abascal in the televised leaders’ debates, something he wasn’t part of in the previous April election campaign.
This is not to say, however, that Vox’s populist rhetoric does not incorporate issues germane for many Murcians.
Vox’s commitment to curb illegal immigration – many migrants travel to Murcia to work in low-paid agricultural work – resonates in a region that has suffered widespread levels of unemployment since the financial crisis.
Unfortunately, here Vox’s provocative views on Islam conveniently conform with their immigration policies, as the South-Eastern region receives a lot of migration, both legal and illegal, from North Africa.
It is no coincidence that Vox portrays itself as the defender of traditional Spanish Catholic values.
Similarly, many Murcians felt that Vox’s commitment to centralisation, particularly its public denouncement of the Catalonian independence movement, would better allow for equality amongst all Spanish regions.Vox’s initial electoral surge began in 2018 amidst a botched independence bid that caused outrage across Spain.
Francisco López Carvajal, from the College of Political Science of the Region of Murcia, emphasised this correlation between Catalonia and Vox voters: “Spain is broken by Catalonia and throwing [away] national pride… in a region like Murcia… one of the most identified with the feeling of Spanishness”.
This pride in Spanish national identity, something Vox portrays itself as a defender of, is offended by separatism.
The Catalonian issue also highlights a disparity in media and government focus between North and South, between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, and between Murcia and the more affluent regions of the country.
Many Murcians feel that the media focus is on disruptive secessionists and not on their region, somewhere they feel has many more important issues.
Three tonnes of dead fish have washed up on Mar Menor beaches. Photo: Andrés Martínez Soto
Another that could partly explain the collapse of the PP vote in Murcia, to the benefit of Vox, is the sullying of its reputation following the environmental disaster at Mar Menor.
Strong Vox results in Cartagena, Torre Pacheco and San Javier, three municipalities directly affected by the crisis, pay testament to this. Curiously, this provides no evidence for Vox’s green politics as they did not participate in the recent protests in Murcia and Cartagena; rather, it illustrates the severity of the discontent felt towards PP and other mainstream parties. Vox, offering populist policies to a disenfranchised region, capitalised on this representative vacuum.
By Conor Patrick Faulkner