The Irish Times view on 40 years of democracy in Spain

Anniversary fraught with increasingly fractious discord

 General Secretary of right-wing party Vox, Javier Ortega (left), Andalusia presidential candidate Francisco Serrano  and Vox’s President Santiago Abascal wave to supporters after the Andalusian regional election. EPA/Rafa Alcaide

General Secretary of right-wing party Vox, Javier Ortega (left), Andalusia presidential candidate Francisco Serrano and Vox’s President Santiago Abascal wave to supporters after the Andalusian regional election. EPA/Rafa Alcaide

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Forty years ago this week, Spain’s democratic constitution was endorsed by a large majority of the electorate in every region except the Basque Country.

So it is bitterly ironic that its anniversary, marking the longest period of democratic peace in Spain’s history, should be fraught with increasingly fractious discord.

This destabilising factionalism is epitomised by the emergence, for the first time since the end of the Franco dictatorship, of an explicitly far-right party into the political mainstream.

Though all parties agree the constitution needs change, there seems little hope the consensus achieved 40 years ago can be recovered

The ultra-nationalist Vox surged out of nowhere last Sunday to take 12 seats in the Andalusian regional parliament.

This ends 36 years of Socialist Party (PSOE) hegemony in Spain’s most populous region and causes a major headache for the minority PSOE government in Madrid.

Vox uses toxic anti-immigrant rhetoric and wants to dismantle the autonomous powers Basques and Catalans already enjoy under the constitution. It also wants to remove protections and rights from women. Meanwhile, the Catalan nationalist movement itself effectively torn up the constitution in declaring, however unrealistically, an independent republic last year.

And Podemos, which challenges the PSOE from the left, wants to remove what conservatives regard as the constitution’s lynch-pin, the monarchy.

Though all parties agree the constitution needs change, there seems little hope the consensus achieved 40 years ago can be recovered. That consensus had admirable aspects, and was obviously preferable to a re-run of Spain’s disastrous 1930s civil war.

But it was heavily-conditioned, and subject to constant, if muted, threats from the armed forces and the Francoist establishment.

The best way to celebrate 40 years of peaceful democracy under the constitution would be for all democratic parties to agree a new minimal framework for the state.

The conservative parties in Andalusia could lead the way, by rejecting any alliance with Vox, a movement clearly bent on destroying democracy itself. But their own ambiguous relationship to the dictatorship’s legacy makes such a courageous step unlikely.

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