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Opinion & Analysis

A vote for the future, not the past

A worker picks up an envelope as it's taken from a warehouse and sent to polling stations ahead of the April 28 Spanish general election in Alcala de Henares, near Madrid, Spain, April 16, 2019. Picture taken April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Juan Medina

A few days ago, the far-right party Vox looked set to secure solid support in Spain’s general election, perhaps even as kingmaker in a coalition of the right to oust the Socialists from their precarious grip on power in Madrid. That scenario has thankfully receded after Sunday’s vote.

The populists led by Santiago Abascal won 24 seats in the Spanish Congress, the first far-right party to secure parliamentary representation in Spain since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco.

That is worrying by any measure, but it is also a far cry from what the party had expected. The result will come as a disappointment to many of its voters, whose support may now start to wane.

Voters on the left rallied to deny rightwing parties the key to government, delivering a bruising blow in the process to the conservative Partido Popular, which had hardened its discourse to stem the flow of votes to Vox but instead saw its support collapse across the country as a result.

Whatever shape the PSOE-led government finally takes, the message from the Spanish electorate was unequivocal. On Sunday, a majority of voters chose a progressive, open Spain, not a return to the reactionary politics of another era. Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez summed it up by saying “…the future has won and the past has lost.”

For Gibraltar, which had thankfully barely figured in the Spanish general election campaign, this was the best possible result we could have hoped for.

Had the rightwing bloc secured a victory, it would have translated into a hardline stance toward Gibraltar at a very delicate juncture given the Brexit uncertainty.

But while we can breathe a sigh of relief that the Spanish right has been held at bay for now, there is no room for complacency.

Vox and its MPs will seek to influence debate and policies alike. Time will tell too whether rightwing parties will fare better in municipal elections in May, including in La Linea where 15% voted for Vox on Sunday despite policies that included advocating a border closure.

And while the Rock’s relations with Spain have always been better when the Socialists are in office in Madrid, let us not forget that at their core, all Spanish political parties aspire to the same goal when it comes to Gibraltar.

After Sunday’s result and against the backdrop of Brexit, we must remain as firm as ever on our red lines, even while striving to maintain good relations with our neighbours wherever possible.

And we must guard too against the influence of extremist politics on this side of the border.

In Casemates on Saturday, Carl Benjamin, a UKIP candidate for the southwest of England and Gibraltar in the forthcoming EU election, held a “rally” to tout his party’s ideas and policies.

Mr Benjamin, who specialises in toxic commentary and buffoonery as a means of generating interest, attracted all of 20 people to his event, most of them his own acolytes flown in from the UK.

The message was clear: Gibraltar is an inclusive, multi-cultural society in which Mr Benjamin, his divisive party and others like them will find little support.

MAIN PHOTO: REUTERS/Juan Medina