In Valladolid, a tumultuous marriage between Spain’s conservatives and the far right

From our correspondent in Spain – On May 28th, the conservatives of the Partido Popular, who followed the Socialists in the municipal elections, joined forces with the far-right party Vox to govern Valladolid.

The city is also the capital of Castilla y Leon, a region where the same two right-wing parties decided to govern together more than a year ago. A marriage that today turns out to be tumultuous.

Last straight line for candidates for the general election in Spain. Originally scheduled for December, the vote was brought forward to July 23. A decision taken by the current socialist president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez, after his party’s defeat in the local elections last May.

With a gray beard, blue shirt and jeans, the national leader of Vox, Santiago Abascal, launched his campaign on Friday, July 7, in a casual look from San Pablo Square in Valladolid. The choice of the Leonese capital leaves nothing to chance.

The city is the symbol of Vox’s emergence. It is here that the regional parliament of Castile and Leon sits, the first region where the local Partido Popular (PP), a conservative party, sealed an alliance with the extreme right to govern in more than a year.

On 13 February 2022, the people of Castile and Leon returned to the polls earlier than expected, following the failure of the coalition between the PP and Ciudadanos, the centre-right liberal party. They had then designated Vox as the third political force in the region. Four weeks later, the two parties sealed their government agreement.

It is therefore in conquered territory and amid cries of “President, President!” that Santiago Abascal makes his speech. For about thirty minutes, he denounces the actions of Pedro Sanchez’s government and praises the advantages of the alliance model between the PP and Vox in the region.

In front of an audience of supporters with Spanish flags, he presents this alliance as “an alternative that works”, which today extends to other regions of the country, such as in Valencia.

However, the speech does not mention the turbulence that regional representatives of both parties have experienced this year, especially regarding the right to abortion.

Chaos and turbulence in connection with abortion

José Manuel is the director of the Ginemedica clinic in Valladolid, where 7 out of 10 abortions are performed in the region. This winter, he discovered, amazed, the words of the local vice president and member of Vox, Juan Garcia-Gallardo. During a press conference, in the presence of the local spokesman for the PP, Carlos Fernandez Carriedo, the young 30-year-old had announced a series of measures in favor of the birth rate and the family.

Stressing that “more than 2,500 abortions were carried out in Castilla y Leon in 2021, an increase of 7.2% compared to 2020”, he announced the new “obligation for doctors to offer parents the opportunity” to listen to the fetus heartbeat and see a 4D ultrasound, in the 6th and 8th week.

This “before any decision is made” about the “development of the pregnancy”. A measure largely inspired by the model introduced by Viktor Orban’s government in Hungary.

“What he proposed has no interest in a process of voluntary termination of pregnancy” annoys José Manuel Munoz. “No woman who wants an abortion asks for it This gentleman and the party he represents are against abortion, what they just want is for this right to no longer exist”.

The affair caused such an outcry that it forced Alfonso Fernandez Manueco, the president of the government of Castile and Leon, to correct his vice president. The elected Conservative had indicated that “doctors will not be required to do anything”.

In a press conference, he added that “the government of Castile and Leon will under no circumstances update the protocol for attention to women who submit to voluntary termination of pregnancy”.

In the Parliament of Castile and León, the spokesman for the popular party, Raul de la Hoz, drives home the point: “It is true that at that time our government partner wanted to make some changes to the protocol on abortion and pregnancy protocol that applies in Castile and Leon But from the beginning we made it clear that their proposal would not be implemented, and it was not.

“Intrafamily violence” rather than “macho violence”

If the nickname “anti-abortion protocol” from Vox remained in the cards, the anger of the feminist associations does not weaken. A stone’s throw from the clinic, Nina Infante, an early feminist, meets regularly with other activists in their office at the Feminist Political Forum of Castilla y Leon. Aged 77, she regularly demonstrates against the far-right party and its repeated knife attacks for women’s rights.

Nationally, Vox wants to remove the concept of gender violence, which it considers “ideological”. As shown in the program for the election at the end of July. The far-right formation prefers the term “domestic violence”.

Nina Infante (right) in a meeting at the headquarters of the Castilla-Leon Feminist Political Forum in Valladolid. © France 24

For Nina, this semantic war is a way of “denying macho violence”. What they are doing, she says, “is to say that there is violence in general and that men are also victims of violence”.

What worries Nina and the other members of the Forum is that the term “domestic violence” already appears in the government pact sealed between the two parties in Castilla and León.

Forum member Conchi is sure: “Now the PP has found its excuse! He says that Vox is forcing him to make all these policies when they themselves had them in mind but did not dare to put them in place because they could hurt them at the electoral level ”.

“We have ideological differences”

From the Miguel Delibes room in the Parliament of Castile and Leon, Raul de la Hoz, the PP spokesman, shows firmness. In the interview he gave us, the former lawyer wants to distinguish the “media noise” from the facts.

“In Castile and Leon, we will not take any step back in the fight against gender violence, and Vox knows it”, he assures, before clarifying: “We will make the fight against gender violence compatible with another aspect that Vox considers important, and which is actually also, albeit to a lesser extent, violence within the family. We will also take that into account, but in no way to the detriment of the fight against violence against women”.

The politician denies any internal struggle between the two parties and recalls that PP and Vox have “ideological differences” which make them two separate political formations.

Vox, a troublesome ally

A few days before the general election, however, the relationship between the two parties seems to have weakened. On the national stage, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, leader of the People’s Party, called on voters to support the formation of “a free government” to avoid “the intransigence of the extremists”.

When he presented his program at the beginning of July, the leader of the PP even indicated that he would ask Pedro Sanchez “or the future leader of the PSOE” to abstain from voting and “let him govern” if he does not achieve absolute majority.

In total, since the Socialists’ defeat in the municipal and regional elections last May, the PP and the far-right party have entered into government agreements in 23 cities with more than 40,000 inhabitants. They currently govern in coalition in three autonomous communities: Castile and Leon, Valencia and Extremadura.

If the PP wins the July 23 election, as the polls predict, it remains to be seen whether this tumultuous marriage will take on a national dimension.

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