Far-right Vox wants to shake up Spain's election
On the distant margins of politics until it burst onto the scene in southern Spain, far-right party Vox hopes lingering discontent will help it score big in Sunday's general election.
For a long time, Spain was one of the few European countries that didn't have a far-right party to speak of.
That changed in December when Vox won 12 parliamentary seats in the southern region of Andalusia, helping a coalition of the conservative Popular Party (PP) and centre-right Ciudadanos take power in a traditional socialist bastion.
Now, the party that was founded in 2013 seeks to emulate its success at a national level and enter parliament for the first time.
- 'Silenced' Spain -
Ultra-nationalist, the party slams the outgoing socialist executive as an "enemy" of Spain for trying to negotiate with separatists in Catalonia, where a secession bid in 2017 shocked the country -- outrage Vox has seized upon.
Opposed to Spain's influential feminist movement, uncompromising on illegal immigration, anti-abortion and same-sex marriage, the party boasts that its rallies are full to the brim.
Vox "has managed to awaken hope among many of those who had lost it, who didn't feel represented," Vox leader Santiago Abascal told Spanish radio this week.
Insisting that parts of Spain had long been "silenced" by what he dubs the "progressive dictatorship," he promised Vox voters would "cause a genuine stir" in Sunday's elections.
Shunning most traditional media and campaigning hard on social networks and in rallies, Abascal has adopted the campaign tactics of US and Brazilian presidents Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro.
- Catalonia -
While immigration has been a centre-piece for many far-right parties in Europe, Vox has seized more on concern in Spain over Catalonia's independence movement.
Abascal, a former PP member in the northern Basque Country who grew up under the constant threat of armed group ETA, has pledged to "take control" of the separatist-governed region of Catalonia if he came to power and wants to ban pro-independence parties.
John Muller, who coordinated a book of essays on Vox, says that for years, the threat of Spain breaking up was not taken seriously, until Catalonia's separatist government attempted to secede in 2017.
Vox, he says, is "a response" to that.
Commended by Steve Bannon, Trump's former advisor, the party also criticises a law against gender violence, which it believes "criminalises" men.
Jorge del Palacio, a professor at the King Juan Carlos University who specialises in the history of political thinking, says there is an interesting mirror effect between Vox and Podemos, which polls say is on the decline.
"In 2014, Podemos was able to capitalise (on discontent) because there was an economic crisis. Now, Vox is able to capitalise (on discontent) because there is an identity crisis."
- Rural world -
One of Vox's voter-targets for the elections is the hunting world.
So much so that Angel Lopez Maraver, president of Spain's hunting federation, will be the party's candidate in May's European elections.
He told AFP at a March hunting fair in Madrid that Vox -- which also defends bullfighting -- is attempting to preserve Spain's traditions.
But he also warned that "they have everything to prove and no track record."
- Hunting for the disgruntled -
Perhaps Vox's most audacious wager is to attract disgruntled left-wingers.
People like David Garcia, Vox's coordinator in San Vicente del Raspeig, a dormitory town next to Alicante in southeastern Spain.
The 38-year-old who has worked variously as a security guard, logistics manager and farm labourer, says he always voted socialist, like his parents.
Then he joined Vox in 2014 for a variety of reasons, including his belief that Spanish regions have too much power.
"We're people who are new (to politics) who have been working all our lives. These aren't the hands of politicians," he says showing the calluses on his hands.
He's joined by other activists like Adela Marquez, 43, unemployed and a victim of gender violence.
She used to vote for Podemos but has now joined Vox, saying she saw women taking advantage of the law against gender violence, "filing false complaints."
That "really harms those of us who have been abused."
Vox has said there are thousands of false complaints every year.
But according to the prosecution office, just 0.007 percent of all sentences have been for false accusations since 2009.
No matter, says Muller, for whom this and other criticism is only "strengthening" a party that profits from general "anger" against politics.
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