Supporters of Spain's far-right Vox party wave Spanish flags during a campaign rally in Burgos, northern Spain on April 14, 2019, ahead of the April 28 general elections. Image Credit: AFP

My good friend Chemma rarely loses at dominoes. He seems to mostly know which of the other three players at the table holds what pieces, can predict what order they’ll likely come down in, and boasts relentlessly in very annoying Spanish how great he is. A bad loser is one thing, a bad winner is another.

But there’s a way now to get him to lose his concentration during a game and you’ll stand a better chance of causing an upset win: Mention General Franco. The very utterance of the name of the long-time dictator, who ruled between the 1936-1939 Civil War and his death in 1975, sets Chemma in a tailspin, eliciting a long string of profanities against the general. Maybe it’s a good thing my Spanish isn’t that good.

And now, with Spain’s voters heading to the polls on April 28, Chemma’s winning streak is very spotting indeed — Francisco Franco is being mentioned a lot in the current general election campaign. It’s the third time in four years that Chemma and the other 30 million or so Spaniards will be heading to the polls to elect a new government in Madrid. Chemma votes Socialist, always has and likely always will. Usually his venom is aimed at the conservative Popular Party of former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. This time around it’s aimed at Vox, a new right-wing party that’s gaining support across Spain and is predicted to win about a dozen seats in the new parliament. Opinion polls last weekend put it at roughly 10 per cent support.

But it’s Vox’s close ties to the policies of General Franco that has Chemma — and many Spaniards — upset.

First off, if Vox had its way, it would suspend autonomous status for Catalonia.

There are 19 separate regional parliaments across Spain, and each has powers to make laws on education, the environment, very limited tax powers, and on issues of interest locally. A narrow majority of Catalonians want full independence from Spain, have voted for it in two illegal plebiscites and have elected separatists to govern its regional assembly.

Vox would simply suspend its autonomous status, but would go further. It would abolish all those 19 regional assemblies and create one parliament — one government — for all of Spain. Vox would take on the Brits and step up their diplomatic efforts to return the British territory of Gibraltar to Spain.

It would also repeal laws that ban Franco-era symbols and envisages compensation to the dictatorship’s victims. That’s why, for example, former generals Agustin Rosety and Alberto Asarta will run as parliamentary candidates for the provinces of Cadiz and Castellon. Another former general, Manuel Mestre, is running in Alicante, and another will run for mayor in Palma de Mallorca. Rosety and Asarta signed a manifesto last year in support of Franco’s legacy. The manifesto was issued in response to the Socialist government’s plans to remove Franco’s remains from a state mausoleum outside Madrid, according to the promoters.

Domestic violence

Vox too would pass a law to protect bullfighting, ban medical procedures such as gender change and abortion under the public health system, and repeal a law on domestic violence as discriminatory against men. For good measure, Vox would build a secure wall around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in northern Morocco to shut out refugees. It would also deport illegal refugees and those who entered Spain legally but committed a crime. The party would also shut mosques. Oh — and end property and inheritance taxes as well.

While there’s no chance of it being able to form a government, its policies will have to be taken into consideration if the parties on the Right — The Popular Party and Ciudadanos together with Vox could form a right-wing coalition.

The Chemma-supported Socialists led by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez are at 31 per cent. They haven’t enough for a majority, but should squeeze out a win with the support of the leftist Popemos party.

“If we see the laws of the constitution or the Statute of Autonomy in Catalonia broken once more, the state of law led by this government will act with strength and proportion against any challenge,” Sanchez said in an interview published in a national newspaper, adding he would apply direct rule to Catalonia just as the conservative Rajoy did in 2017.

Chemma is close to having enough of dominoes for now. It’s one thing being a bad loser, another — a bad winner.