Supporters of  VOX
Supporters of Spain's far-right party VOX attend an electoral campaign closing rally in Madrid, Spain April 26, 2019. Image Credit: REUTERS

DUBLIN: In the middle of the Mediterranean on a dark night in June 2017, Spanish fireman Miguel Roldan and two others set out in a small boat from their ship to rescue a refugee boat in trouble.

After turning off their boat’s engine, they heard the screams for help. On the radio, Rome’s Search and Rescue Control Centre deny the team permission to rescue the refugees. Their boat is in Libyan waters, and must instead wait to negotiate with authorities there. That would take at least 15 minutes, and there was no time.

Roldan and the crew acted and saved lives. And because of that act of bravery — or defiance — the 32-year-old Malaga firefighter faces 20 years in an Italian jail. He, seven Germans and a Scot are accused of helping human traffickers.

Spanish firefighter Miguel Roldan
Spanish firefighter Miguel Roldan, 32, is facing 20 years in an Italian jail for rescuing refugees from the Mediterranean Sea. Image Credit: Facebook

Roldan’s case has strained relations between Madrid and Rome and has put the plight of refugees firmly at the centre of the current general election campaign in Spain.

The country has taken in refugee ships turned away by Italy, and more than 57,000 refugees made it to Spain last year across the Mediterranean.

Voters head to the polls on Sunday, April 28, to elect a new parliament in Madrid.

It’s the third time in four years that Spaniards will vote in a general election, and this time around, there’s a new far right-win party that is gaining support: Vox.

The anti-immigrant party has signed up three former generals to stand in constituencies for the Madrid parliament. Two of those have expressed support for the legacy of former right-wing dictator General Francisco Franco by signing a petition last year. Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist for four decades from the nation’s bitter Civil War between 1936 and 1939.

The anti-immigrant party [Vox] has signed up three former generals to stand in constituencies for the Madrid parliament. Two of those have expressed support for the legacy of former right-wing dictator General Francisco Franco.


The inclusion of openly pro-Franco candidates with senior military backgrounds underscores the ground that Vox has broken in a country that had largely shied away from far-right, militaristic politics since General Franco’s rule ended with his death in 1975.

Former generals Agustin Rosety and Alberto Asarta will run as parliamentary candidates for the provinces of Cadiz and Castellon, Vox said. Another former general, Manuel Mestre, is running in Alicante, according to the party. Vox had already enlisted another general to run for mayor in Palma de Mallorca.

Rosety and Asarta signed a manifesto last year in support of Franco’s legacy, including the military uprising that ignited the 1936-1939 Spanish civil war and resulted in his rule until 1975.

Asarta signed the manifesto last year, according to a copy of it, while Rosety has signed it subsequently, said local media.

Image Credit: Gulf News

The manifesto, which was has been signed by about 600 former members of the armed forces, was issued as a response to the Socialist government’s plans to remove Franco’s remains from a state mausoleum outside Madrid, according to the promoters. The mausoleum has long been seen by critics as a monument to fascism.

Latest opinion polls show support for Vox, which opposes gender equality laws and immigration and has a strong stance against independence for Spain’s regions, as high as 12.1 per cent. That could translate into 38 seats in the national parliament at the April 28 election.

Vox grabbed attention last year when it became the first far-right party in Spain in more than four decades to score an electoral victory, winning seats in a local election in Andalusia.

The Franco mausoleum at the Valley of the Fallen has long been a source of controversy. The Socialist government said the dictator’s body will be removed on June 10 and reburied in the family tomb at a state cemetery outside Madrid.

Key facts about the Spanish election

WHO: The Leader of the Social Party, Pedro Sanchez took over as Prime Minister in June 2018, after his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy lost a parliamentary vote of confidence. This was triggered by a long-running corruption trial involving members of Rajoy’s Popular Party. Sanchez lacked a working majority in parliament, and his government’s budget bill was defeated six weeks ago.

WHEN: Following the budget’s defeat, Sanchez called the general election for has called a snap election for April 28 to elect a new parliament that sits in Madrid. It’s a Sunday, and voting in Spain traditionally takes place on Sundays. Just four weeks later, Spaniards will be asked to cast their votes again, on Sunday May 26 – this time to elect Members of the European Parliament that sits in Strasbourg.

WHY: Since 2015, Spain’s political system has been evenly divided between conservatives, such as Rajoy’s Popular Party, the Socialists, Podemos – a left-wing populist party, the centre-right Ciudadanos and now Vox, an anti-immigrant right-wing party that’s gaining in support. It’s the third time in four years there’s been a general election, and it took Rajoy almost a year to be able to form his administration that fell due to a long and wide-ranging corruption scandal that resulted in a string of criminal convictions.

HOW:The Spanish Cortes Generales, or legislative chambers, are split into two chambers – the Congress of Deputies and the Senate. All 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies and 208 out of 266 seats in the Senate up for election. Members of the Cortes Generales normally serve four-year terms, but because of the fractured nature now, this is the third election there in four years. The Congress of Deputies has greater legislative power than the Senate, possessing the ability to vote confidence in or withdraw it from a Prime Minister as well as to override Senate vetoes by an absolute majority of votes.

WHAT:The election comes at a time when Spain is plagued by political volatility, driven by divisions over Catalonia’s independence drive and by the emergence of several new parties. Its economy is doing well but there remains a problem with youth unemployment, a lack of affordable rental homes in major cities, and is dealing with the fallout of a glut of properties for sale that were left empty as a result of the economic crisis nearly a decade ago. And immigration is now in focus, with Vox gaining support.

— With inputs from agencies

Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe.