In Madrid, far-right surge feared near centre for migrant youth
"In this neighbourhood, the vote for Vox is going to be very high," admits Lidia Lopez, saying the far-right had manipulated local concerns over an immigrant centre for unaccompanied minors.
As a steady stream of residents turned out to vote Sunday in Madrid's Hortaleza district on a bright but freezing November morning, rising support for Vox was on many people's minds as Spain held its fourth election in as many years.
Earlier this week, Vox leader Santiago Abascal, who has made no secret of his desire to expel all unaccompanied minors, used this sprawling northeastern neighbourhood where he lives as an example of an area blighted by crime by immigrant youngsters.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric, particularly targeting minors, has been a key part of Abascal's approach with his party coming under fire for falsifying and manipulating data to try to establish a supposed cause-and-effect relationship between illegal immigration and urban delinquency.
Just two days earlier, Spain's human rights czar Francisco Fernandez Marugan had issued a sharply-worded denunciation of "xenophobic and racist messages" linking migrant youths to crime, warning they could be used to "justify acts of violence against them".
Several Spanish flags could be seen fluttering from the surrounding apartment blocks as people hurried out of the polling station and into a nearby cafe to escape the biting chill, the neighbourhood a mix of working-class tower blocks, leafy middle-class streets and luxurious wealthy villas.
"We have a lot of problems with these youngsters, they are stealing every day. Here all three of us are going to vote for Vox," admitted Jose Morales, 79, a former porter perched on a barstool drinking red wine with two friends, one of whom was tucking into a small plate of paella.
All three say they used to vote for the rightwing Popular Party, but grew disillusioned following a string of corruption scandals.
For them, Vox is the only one that has tried to address the neighbourhood's problems, says 73-year-old Jose Rodriquez, a former fishmonger who says he was cornered by two youths last year who snatched his gold watch and a gold chain from round his neck.
Although many older voters said they had voted "for the right", few were prepared to say which party had got their vote.
"I voted for the right because the most important thing is the unity of Spain and pensions," said Rafael García, 84. Vox has taken a particularly hardline stance on Spanish unity as the Catalan separatist crisis has spiralled, calling for all separatist parties to be banned.
"Many people have problems with immigration and have used this to vote for Vox," said Lopez, a 21-year-old trainee journalist who voted for the radical leftwing Podemos.
"We are in a working-class neighbourhood where people struggle to find work, so he just says what people want to hear, using falsified data. Abascal says: I'm going to help you find work by throwing these people out when clearly that isn't the solution," said David Barcelo, a 25-year-old engineer.
Local resident Eva Millan Martin dismissed Abascal's remarks out of hand, saying she had never been aware of any problems with the centre, where more than 150 youngsters have reportedly been placed, more than four times its actual capacity.
"I've never been worried about walking past it and I've never heard of any problem with it," said this 33-year-old programmer, who also voted for Podemos, saying Vox was "simply running a racist campaign."
But fear of rising support has also pushed others to vote, despite widespread disillusionment at the deadlock that has gripped Spanish politics for the past four years.
"I thought my sister wasn't going to vote in this election but thanks to Vox getting stronger, she's now going to vote for the left to stop them," said Eleuterio Risoto Roldan, a 27-year-old computer technician who voted for the newly-formed leftwing party Mas Pais.
Standing with a group of veteran Socialist supporters who had lived all their life in the area, Pilar Rodriguez, 73, said she was not afraid the far right would make gains, despite what the polls predicted.
"Vox is threatening to throw everyone out, including all the unaccompanied minors but it can't because the EU protects them," she told AFP, recalling that during the decades of dictatorship, Spain was not part of Europe.
"I'm not afraid of Vox because we're in Europe," she said. "If we weren't, we would be really fearful."
© 2019 AFP