Vox: the meteroric rise of Spain’s far right party

With its hard line against Catalan separatism, immigration and feminism, far-right party Vox was the big winner of Spain's repeat general election on Sunday, surging into third place.

Vox: the meteroric rise of Spain's far right party
VOX leader Santiago Abascal (C) celebrates results at party HQ in Madrid. Photo: AFP

The party won 52 seats — more than doubling the 24 it took during its April parliamentary debut in the most significant showing by a far-right faction since Spain's return to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco's death in 1975.

Vox won 52 seats in Spain's parliament and took the biggest share of the vote in Murcia

Founded by PP members

Vox, meaning “voice” in Latin, was launched in 2014 by Santiago Abascal and several other disgruntled members of the hardline fringe of the rightwing conservative Popular Party (PP).

At the time, Abascal blasted then PP premier Mariano Rajoy for not repealing measures passed by a previous Socialist government such as same-sex marriage legislation or the law of historical memory seeking to recognise those who suffered under Franco's dictatorship.   

And last month, Abascal denounced the Socialist government for exhuming Franco's remains from a grandiose mausoleum and moving them to a more discreet burial site, calling it the “profanation” of a grave.


Santiago Abascal has become the poster boy for the resurgent far right. Photo: AFP

Rapid rise

Vox struggled to gain traction at first, attracting only a smattering of voters but it December 2018 it burst on the scene, winning 10 percent of the vote in a regional election in Andalusia, Spain's most populous region.

The party then joined forces with the PP and business-friendly Ciudadanos to oust the Socialists from power in the southern region where they had ruled since 1982.

In April's election, Vox went on to win 2.6 million votes and on Sunday that rose to more than 3.5 million votes, becoming the party that won the most votes in the southeastern region of Murcia and in Spain's North African
enclave of Ceuta.   

In his victory speech, Abascal claimed the party's rise was the “most meteoric and rapid in Spanish democracy”.

Catalonia and immigration

Analysts say it was Vox's hard line on Catalan separatism that was responsible for its success.

He ramped up his rhetoric in October after Spain's top court sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders over a failed 2017 independence bid, triggering days of often violent protest that saw demonstrators fighting running battles
with police.   

Even before that, Vox had played an active role in the separatists' trial by using a peculiarity of the Spanish legal system that allowed the party act as co-accuser — or “people's prosecutor”.

The party wants separatist parties banned, the region's autonomy to be suspended and its president Quim Torra arrested.

It also wants the deportation of all illegal immigrants as well as those in Spain legally who have committed a crime; it has also lobbied to repeal a pioneering law on gender violence that established special courts for victims, and defends bullfighting.

The party's deputy, Javier Ortega-Smith, has been accused of anti-Semitism for criticisms of financier George Soros, a Hungarian Jew who emigrated to the United States after World War II and who has long been involved with groups promoting a liberal democratic agenda and open borders.


Before its surge in Sunday's election, Vox had done worse than predicted by opinion polls in European, regional and local elections in May.   

But just as in Andalusia, its support has helped the PP and Ciudadanos to govern in the Madrid and Murcia regions.

Hailed by far right allies across Europe.

Vox's surge drew praise from fellow extremist leaders in Europe, with Italy's far-right leader Matteo Salvini lauding its “great advance” while Marine Le Pen of France's National Rally described its electoral success as “spectacular”.



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German Greens’ chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news

With Germany's Green party leading the polls ahead of September's general elections, the ecologists' would-be successor to Angela Merkel has become increasingly targeted by internet trolls and fake news in recent weeks.

German Greens' chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news
The Greens chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock on April 26th. Photo: DPA

From wild claims about CO2-emitting cats and dogs to George Soros photo collages, 40-year-old Annalena Baerbock has been the subject of a dizzying array of fake news, conspiracy theories and online attacks since she was announced as the Greens’ chancellor candidate in mid-April.

The latest polls have the Greens either ahead of or level with Merkel’s ruling conservatives, as the once fringe party further establishes itself as a leading electoral force in Europe’s biggest economy.

Baerbock herself also consistently polls higher than her conservative and centre-left rivals in the race to succeed Merkel, who will leave office after 16 years this autumn.

Yet her popularity has also brought about unwanted attention and a glut of fake news stories aimed at discrediting Baerbock as she bids to become Germany’s first Green chancellor.


False claims

Among the false stories circulating about Baerbock is the bizarre claim that she wants to ban household pets in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Another fake story firmly denied by the party claimed that she defied rules on mask-wearing and social-distancing by embracing colleagues upon her nomination earlier this month.

Baerbock has also been presented as a “model student” of Hungarian billionaire George Soros – a hate figure for the European far-right and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists – in a mocked-up social media graphic shared among others by a far-right MP.

More serious online attacks include a purported photo of Baerbock which in fact shows a similar-looking naked model.

The Greens’ campaign manager Michael Kellner said that the attempts to discredit Baerbock had “taken on a new dimension”, that “women are targeted more heavily by online attacks than men, and that is also true of our candidate”.

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock earlier this month. Photo: DPA

Other false claims about the party include reports of a proposed ban on barbecues, as well as plans to disarm the police and enforce the teaching of the Quran in schools.

While such reports are patently absurd, they are potentially damaging to Baerbock and her party as they bid to spring a surprise victory in September.

“She has a very real chance, but the coming weeks are going to be very important because Baerbock’s public image is still taking shape,” Thorsten Faas, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University told AFP.

In a bid to fight back against the flood of false information, the party has launched a new “online fire service” to report fake news stories.

READ ALSO: Greens become ‘most popular political party’ in Germany

Russian disinformation

Yet stemming the tide is no easy job, with many of those who peddle disinformation now using private messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram rather than public platforms such as Facebook.

The pandemic and ongoing restrictions on public life will also make it harder for the campaign to push through their own narratives at public events.

Miro Dittrich of Germany’s Amadeu-Antonio anti-racism foundation claims that lockdown has “played a role” in the spread of fake news.

“People are isolated from their social environment and are spending a lot more time online,” he said.

Another factor is Russia, which has made Germany a primary target of its efforts to spread disinformation in Europe.

According to the European anti-disinformation platform EUvsDisinfo, Germany has been the target of 700 Russian disinformation cases since 2015, compared to 300 aimed at France and 170 at Italy.

As an outspoken critic of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, Baerbock may well become a target of such attacks during the election campaign.

By Mathieu FOULKES