According to the Chinese artist Peng Wang, “the most tragic thing for a nation is to have no memory.” Spain, which on Nov. 10 held its second general election in 2019 and fifth overall in only eight years, seems increasingly ignorant of its own past.
The governing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) lost three seats in the Congress of Deputies, Spain’s equivalent of the House of Representatives, as its control of the 350-seat assembly fell to 120. The PSOE’s closest ideological allies, the far-left electoral alliance Unidas Podemos, lost seven seats as it too saw voters’ apparent dissatisfaction with the left in Spain grow. The two parties failed to come to a power-sharing agreement after 10 months of negotiation, forcing PM Pedro Sanchéz to call an election which further weakened his hold on power.
Conversely, right-wing parties in Spain made impressive gains after poor performances in the earlier April election. Partido Popular gained 23 seats, bringing its total to 89. It is still a far cry from the 137 it held in June 2018 when it lost power to Sanchéz’s PSOE after failing to clear a vote of no confidence, but nonetheless is a sign of a growing resurgence.
More notable was the performance of Vox, the upstart far-right phenomenon that in six years has come to embody Spanish conservatism. After premiering with 24 seats in the April elections, far fewer than predicted by pollsters, Vox saw its vote share increase nearly 5% and its total number of seats rise to 52, establishing it as the Congress’ third largest force.
While many heralded Vox’s performance as an indication that Spain is shifting farther right, election results tell a more nuanced story. The 43.09% of votes won by Spain’s three prominent conservative parties is consistent with the 43.85% average won by Spain’s right in the past five elections. Thus, Spain is not becoming more conservative; instead, the makeup and distribution of Spain’s conservative movement itself is shifting, with Vox’s success coming at the expense of Ciudadanos, which posits itself as politically right of center and lost 47 of its 57 seats.
The visibility being garnered to Spain’s far right is concerning in a country that only began to transition to democracy as recently as 1975, after years of dictatorship under Franco. Many had hoped the recent transfer of Franco’s body to a cemetery from the war memorial and quasi-shrine where he was elaborately interred was a sign that the nation was finally leaving behind its past. However, the fact that Ciudadanos’ campaign slogan, “España en marcha” (“Spain on the move”) was the same motto employed by Franco’s extant, ultra-far-right party Falange in the 2014 elections was a sign that some habits are harder to shake than others.
As Spain wrestles with the weight of its past, its conservative movement continues to reinvent itself as a means of survival. Vox is a far-right party for the modern day: fresh, loud and its prejudice attractive to more than just Franco’s traditionalists of old. Spain truly is a nation on the move and one at risk of heading down a familiar road if it doesn’t remember the last time it gave such voices prominence.