Far-right surge in Spain’s biggest region leaves conservatives on back foot

Vox expected to enter coalition after strong performance in Castilla y León

The far-right Vox appears to have emerged as the real winner of Sunday’s election in Castilla y León, with the party seemingly poised to enter a coalition with conservatives that will govern Spain’s largest region.

The conservative Popular Party (PP) won the most seats in the regional parliament but its decision to hold the snap election backfired as it failed to secure a majority.

The PP won 31 seats in the 81-seat chamber, a slight gain on the last election in 2019, but not enough for it to govern alone. Vox is its most obvious partner, with the far-right party now the region’s third force after increasing its seats from one to 13.

"Vox has the right and the duty to form a government in Castilla y León," the party's leader, Santiago Abascal, said as he celebrated the result with supporters in the region's capital Valladolid.

“We are going to demand that the verdict of the sovereign people be respected,” he added.

The Socialists of prime minister Pedro Sánchez suffered substantial losses in coming second.

Electoral collapse

The PP has governed the agriculture-reliant region, which is about the size of Austria, for the last 35 years and since 2019 it has done so in coalition with the centre-right Ciudadanos.

The PP’s regional president, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, called the early election after warning that his coalition partner was planning to withdraw its support and bring down his government.

On Sunday, Ciudadanos suffered the latest in a litany of electoral collapses, winning just one seat.

Many observers saw the snap vote as being part of an attempt by the PP to generate nationwide momentum which could lead to victory at the next general election, currently slated for 2023. An overwhelming win last year for the PP's leading candidate in the Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, created hopes of a broader renaissance for the party and its beleaguered national leader, Pablo Casado.

But the gambit appears to have fallen flat.

Migration and rights

Vox, which is the third-biggest party in the Spanish parliament, has already helped the PP govern in Madrid and Andalucía, with confidence-and-supply deals. However, its strong hand in Castilla y León could mean it will now enter a formal coalition with the conservatives for the first time, although the PP has been circumspect about the prospect.

“The only thing the PP has achieved with this election is to replace a liberal party like Ciudadanos as its coalition partner with a nationalist-populist party like [Vox],” said El Confidencial news site.

Vox has taken an aggressive stance against migration, particularly from Muslim countries, and has opposed funding for associations that defend the rights of women and the LGBT community.

"[The] confirmation of the Trumpian far-right as a rising force in Spain is not a small matter given the current international context," noted political commentator Enric Juliana. He said that Washington and the European Union will have watched this result with concern, given that it emboldens Vox ahead of another regional vote, in Andalucía, and the next general election.

The other party which made substantial gains was Soria ¡Ya!, which won three seats in its first election, representing demands for improved services and investment for Spain’s underpopulated rural areas.