Santiago Abascal, the far-right leader fighting ‘the traitors of Spain’

Vox party wins 10.3% of votes and 24 seats in parliament, resurrecting far-right, which had languished in the margins since the death of dictator Francisco Franco

Santiago Abascal, center, leader of far right party Vox, gestures after casting his ballot at a polling station for Spain's general election in Madrid, Sunday, April 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Santiago Abascal, center, leader of far right party Vox, gestures after casting his ballot at a polling station for Spain's general election in Madrid, Sunday, April 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)

MADRID, Spain (AFP) — Raging against the “traitors of Spain” and the “cowardly right-wing,” Santiago Abascal has managed to resurrect the far-right that had been relegated to the margins of politics since the death of dictator Francisco Franco.

His far-right party Vox came fifth in Spain’s elections on Sunday — below expectations — winning 10.3 percent of votes and 24 seats out of 350 in a dramatic entrance to the national parliament.

“Welcome to the resistance!,” the 43-year-old, with his impeccably trimmed beard and piercing eyes, told supporters gathered at a central Madrid square, adding the 24 Vox lawmakers “represented the pride of being Spanish.”

Abascal founded Vox five years ago with other former members of the Popular Party (PP), fueled by disillusion with a party they accused of having “betrayed (their) values and ideas.”

But it was small-fry, attracting just a smattering of voters — until last December when it took close to 11 percent of the votes in regional elections in southern Andalusia.

Since then, Vox has generated a buzz in traditional and social media, causing outrage upon outrage with its ultra-conservative proposals.

Spain’s far-right Vox Party supporters attend the closing election campaign event in Madrid, Spain, Friday, April 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Banning separatist parties, taking direct control of the semi-autonomous region of Catalonia to stop secession, repealing a law that fights gender violence…

The party also fiercely defends traditional family values, even if Abascal is divorced, with two children from a first marriage and two others from his current wife, an Instagram influencer.

In rallies, he has railed against the leftist “liberal dictatorship” and the “enemies of Spain” that are Catalan and Basque nationalists.

His party’s far-out social media posts have his supporters delighted, and his critics pulling their hair out.

One of them before the Andalusia elections, for instance, showed a video of Abascal riding a horse cowboy-style to music from “The Lord of the Rings” and the message: “The Reconquista starts in Andalusian lands.”

The Reconquista refers to the long series of medieval wars waged to recapture territory from the Muslims who occupied most of the Iberian Peninsula in the early 8th century.

Threatened by ETA

Raised in Amurrio, a village in the northern Basque Country where his grandfather was mayor during Franco’s dictatorship, Absacal recalls that his father, a PP municipal councilor, escaped assassination attempts by separatist group ETA three times.

Becoming a member of the PP as soon as he turned 18, Abascal too was forced to go everywhere with two bodyguards in this region in northern Spain where PP and socialist politicians were regular targets of the armed group that dissolved last year.

In this Saturday, April 6, 2019 photo, a banner of Spain’s far-right Vox Party candidate Santiago Abascal hangs during a VOX event in Leganes, outskirts of Madrid, Spain. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

“His political experience in the Basque Country, years of threats, must have influenced his ideas,” says Beatriz Acha, politics expert at the Public University of Navarra.

“But obviously not all people threatened by ETA went through this radicalization. I suppose that his family’s ideological tradition also played a part.”

For Xavier Casals, a historian who specializes in the far-right, Abascal “embodies a family dynasty linked to the right-wing — the right-wing that comes from where there are separatist threats.”

In a sign of the impact that period had on him, he openly acknowledges owning a Smith & Wesson firearm, which is rare in a country where the law severely restricts gun ownership — a law he plans to relax.

Apart from decrying his ideas, critics also point out that Abascal used to head up all sorts of agencies and public foundations while at the PP, earning big bucks in the process.

“Santiago Abascal has always lived off public funds,” Irene Montero, deputy leader of the far-left Podemos, denounced in January.

Abascal’s economic program advocates sharply reducing public spending, in line with the PP’s former hard-line prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, whom he never criticizes.

In fact, Aznar in October said Abascal was a “boy full of good qualities,” calling on him to bring these qualities back to the service of the PP.

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