777 years in prison for Catalan leaders and suppression of self-rule: rise of far-right and what it means

Five keys to understand reasons for Andalusian election and its impact on Catalonia, and Spain's governance


Image of a 10,000-strong Vox party meeting in Madrid in October 2018 (by Vox)
Image of a 10,000-strong Vox party meeting in Madrid in October 2018 (by Vox) / Guifré Jordan

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

December 3, 2018 01:00 PM

The far-right Vox party has emerged in Spanish politics by unexpectedly winning 12 seats in the Andalusian election. Yet it did not happen by chance –the popularity of this political force has dramatically increased in the past few months, and Vox has used Catalan politics among other issues to bring about its breakthrough.

What is the connection between the vote in Andalusia and Catalonia? What might happen now? What impact would Vox have in Catalonia if it were to become decisive in Spanish politics? Have a look at these five key points to find answers to these questions.

1. Anti-independence parties on the rise in Andalusia

Far-right and anti-independence, Vox was the party that made the biggest gains in Andalusia on Sunday, with 377,000 voters joining the relatively small 18,000 in the past election.

And Ciutadans was the other winner, getting 290,000 new votes. The unionist party has taken the clearest stance against Catalonia’s independence, rejecting dialogue with the Catalan government and backing a new suspension of the country’s self-rule.

Although the People’s Party (PP) lost seven seats, the three right-wing parties positioned against the movement for a Catalan Republic together now have some 350,000 votes more than in the past election.

Meanwhile, the Socialist party in Andalusia, in favor of dialogue with pro-independence politicians, and the coalition led by left-wing Podemos, backing a referendum on self-determination, lost some 580,000 votes and 17 seats, the same number gained by the forces on the right.

2. Catalonia used as electoral weapon in Andalusian election campaign

Ciutadans was among the parties that talked most about Catalonia in the campaign, even equipping a bus with the smiling faces of pro-independence heads Carles Puigdemont and Oriol Junqueras, and Socialist leaders, with the motto "they are laughing at Spain."

Ciutadans repeatedly criticized the Socialists for willing to talk with the Catalan government, accusing them and the Podemos-led coalition of having "left governance and public services in the hands of those who have carried out a coup against democracy.”

But they were not alone. Vox's political gatherings during the campaign always highlighted the defense of Spain's unity, while the People's Party took a similar stance to Ciutadans. The Socialists are "humiliating Spaniards" by talking to the independence movement, they claimed during the campaign.

The Socialist party and the Podemos-led group said that Andalusia should be at the center of the campaign, and not Catalonia –but they lost more than half a million votes.

3. Suppression of Catalan self-rule, ban on all pro-independence organizations

But what exactly have some 400,000 Andalusians voted for by supporting Vox? It is a Trump-like party, regarded as far-right, anti-immigrant, xenophobic and anti-feminist. But arguably it is their tough stance on Catalonia that best defines them.

Their 100-measure manifesto starts with a clear proposal against independence. "Suspension of Catalonia's self-rule until the final defeat of the coup supporters," it reads.

"Illegalization of parties, associations, NGOs that aim to destroy the Nation's territorial unity and its sovereignty" is the second measure in their manifesto.

Transforming Spain into a centralized state and thus eliminating devolved powers, suppressing the Catalan police and making languages like Catalan optional at school (it is now the working language in Catalan centers) are some of their other proposals.

4. Vox asks for hundreds of years in prison for Catalan leaders

One of the reasons for the dramatic increase in support for Vox is probably the fact that it has spent the past few years fighting every step towards the independence in Catalonia in the courts.

For instance, in the upcoming trial against the politicians and activists that led the country during the 2017 referendum, Vox is the only private prosecutor, along with the public prosecutor and the state's solicitor general.

The far-right party is asking for a total of 777 years in prison for the 18 leaders awaiting trial, including 74 years for the six former Catalan ministers.  

5. What next? Weaker Spanish government and possible new alliances including far-right

It is impossible to predict what might happen next in Andalusia and in Spain –after some 40 years of Socialist governments in the region, right-wing parties have the majority of seats for the first time.

Therefore it is possible that they could reach an agreement, but that would mean including the far-right Vox in the talks and maybe even including it in the government.

Neither the PP nor Ciutadans have ruled it out, although the latter have said they prefer them holding Andalusia's presidency with support of the PP and the Socialists –both of which have more seats.

If PP, Ciutadans and Vox reach an agreement, it would establish a precedent for the future, especially for the next Spanish election –as in Andalusia, it could play a key role for the country's governance.

The current Socialist government was considering a fresh election, but after its big loss it might reconsider –while there are no votes, Spain will have a weak, minority government with probably no budget.