Pedro Sánchez gets a new mandate to lead a divided Spain | ET REALITY


Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish progressive leader, secured a second term as prime minister on Thursday after a polarizing deal granting amnesty to Catalan separatists gave him enough support in parliament to govern with a fragile coalition in an increasingly divided nation. .

With 179 votes, just over the 176 normally needed to govern, Sánchez, who has been prime minister since 2018, won the opportunity to expand his Party’s progressive agenda, often successful economic policies and pro-European Union stance. Socialist.

The result was the result of months of haggling since an inconclusive July election in which neither the conservative People’s Party, which came in first place, nor the Socialist Party, which came in second place, gained enough support to govern alone.

But the fractures in Spain had less to do with left versus right and more to do with the geographic integrity and identity of the country. Sánchez’s proposed amnesties have breathed new life into a secession issue that last arose in 2017, when separatists held an illegal referendum on independence in the prosperous northeastern region of Catalonia.

That confrontation provoked perhaps the worst constitutional crisis for Spain since it became a democracy after the fall of Franco’s dictatorship in the 1970s.

Since then, it has fueled a Spanish nationalist movement that was once considered taboo after Franco’s government.

Even before Sánchez could be sworn in, the prospect of an amnesty brought hundreds of thousands of conservatives and right-wing hardliners onto the streets in sometimes violent protests that have also attracted American firebrand Tucker Carlson. Spanish courts have criticized the proposed amnesty as a violation of the separation of powers. European Union officials watch nervously.

The parliamentary debate leading up to Thursday’s vote in a barricaded building was particularly bitter when Sánchez defended the proposed clemency law against conservative accusations of corruption and democratic illegitimacy.

“Every time the national dimension enters the picture, emotions grow and the debate becomes even more polarized,” said José Ignacio Torreblanca, an expert on Spain at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. “Ugly, unpleasant and dirty” months awaited Spain, he said.

The issue of separatism has given a “second life” to Carles Puigdemont, the former president of the Catalonia region who was the force behind the 2017 secession movement and is now a fugitive in self-exile in Belgium, Torreblanca said. The far-right party Vox, which, after a mediocre result in the elections, has once again raised its voice, calling for constant street protests.

This largely seemed like the situation Spaniards hoped to avoid when they cast most of their votes with traditional parties in July, indicating that they wanted the stability of a strong center.

In the vote, the Popular Party persuaded many to choose its more dominant conservatism over Vox, but did not get enough votes to form a government.

Sanchez needed the support of a separatist party to govern and in return offered amnesties, something he had previously called a red line he would not cross. The alternative was new elections.

“The left faces a great cost if they go to new elections, so having a government is crucial for them. But the pro-independence parties face a significant opportunity cost if this government is not in power,” said Pablo Simón, a political scientist at the Carlos III University of Madrid. “They are all very weak, but they need each other.”

Polls show that around two-thirds of Spaniards oppose the amnesty, as demonstrated by large, largely peaceful protests across the country, although Vox politicians have attended violent demonstrations peppered with extremists outside the headquarters. of the Socialist Party.

This week, Carlson, a former Fox News personality, attended one of the protests in Madrid with Vox leader Santiago Abascal and said that anyone who is willing to “end democracy is a tyrant, they are a dictator. And this is happening in the center of Europe.”

Sánchez and his supporters have pointed out that his coalition (as much as the hard right dislikes him) gained enough support to govern, as the Constitution dictates.

In a long speech on Wednesday, Sánchez mocked the conservatives for their alliance with Vox. He maintained that the agreement with the Catalan Republican Left and the more radical Junts per Catalunya, whose de facto leader is Puigdemont, was necessary to promote the country’s unity.

“And how do we guarantee that unity? “You can try the path of tension and imposition, or you can try the path of dialogue, understanding and forgiveness,” Sánchez said, citing his record of pardoning imprisoned separatist leaders in 2021 as a way to reduce tensions with Catalonia. He said the hardline Conservative approach had caused the unsuccessful 2017 secession initiative in the first place.

The leader of the conservative Popular Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, attacked Sánchez as “the problem.”

“You and your inability to keep your word, your lack of moral boundaries, your pathological ambition,” he said. “As long as you are here, Spain will be condemned to division. His time as President of the Government will be marked by Puigdemont’s return freely to Catalonia. History will have no amnesty for you.”

But Sánchez seemed unaffected and instead mocked the conservatives for having a history of corruption and for being motivated by the bitterness of losing the election, laughing at Feijóo, who sat across from him.

“I don’t understand why they are so interested in holding new elections if they won the last one,” Sánchez said.

Sánchez also took direct aim at Vox leader Abascal, saying: “The only effective barrier to the policies of the far right is our coalition government.”

The amnesty bill would annul “criminal, administrative and financial” sanctions against more than 300 people involved in the independence movement from January 1, 2012 to November 13, 2023.

But Sánchez’s Socialists had also agreed to relieve a multimillion-euro debt to Catalonia, a demand of the separatists, and give him some control over commuter train services. Puigdemont’s party had demanded that Catalonia, which is a wealthy region, keep more of its tax revenue and that referendum talks be restarted, although this time respecting the demands of the Spanish Constitution.

The conservatives have promised to fight against the law, which will take many months to pass in Parliament and will have to overcome serious obstacles, including the objection of Spanish judges. There is a risk that if the separatists are stymied by the courts, which they consider politically motivated, they could abandon the coalition, essentially paralyzing Sánchez’s legislative agenda.

“This government will probably be deadlocked in Parliament,” said Simón, the political scientist, adding that complaints about amnesties in conservative-controlled regional governments would also damage cooperation and governance.

There is also the question of whether Puigdemont could hold an illegal referendum again, recreating the trauma of 2017. That would likely embolden the nationalist Vox, whose dire warnings about the destruction of Spain would appear legitimized.

“If this mode of extinction or survival of Spanish nationalists is activated, then the conservative party may not be the best option because one feels frustrated and angry,” said analyst Torreblanca.

Spain could be entering a risk scenario, he added, in which “those who lose the elections do not accept that they have lost, not so much because the vote is rigged, but because the Government is doing things that they consider barbaric.”

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