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Spain: Pedro Sanchez secures new term in divided country

November 16, 2023

The Socialist prime minister has promised an amnesty for Catalan separatists in exchange for parliamentary support, dividing the country.

Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez applauds at the start of a debate at the Spanish Parliament
Sanchez has been in office since 2018Image: Manu Fernandez/AP Photo/picture alliance

Pedro Sanchez won the backing of Spain's parliament for another term as prime minister on Thursday, ending months of political deadlock.

It comes despite divisions in the country over his decision to grant Catalan separatists amnesty in exchange for their crucial support in a vote of confidence.

What is the current political situation in Spain?

Sanchez's Socialist Party (PSOE) finished second in an inconclusive general election in July, but he has reached deals with six smaller parties to ensure the support of 179 lawmakers — three more than the required absolute majority — to reestablish his minority coalition government with the far-left Sumar party.

Among the smaller parties who have lent their support to Sanchez are two key Catalan separatist parties.

In return, Sanchez has agreed to grant amnesty to hundreds of people facing legal action for their role in Catalonia's separatist movement over the past decade.

Among them is Carles Puigdemont, the leader of the regional government of Catalonia when it staged a failed secession bid in 2017, and who then fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution.

Sanchez: 'A united Spain is a better Spain'

Sanchez defended the amnesty on Wednesday at the start of a two-day parliamentary debate, arguing it was needed to "heal the wounds" opened by the wealthy northeastern region's independence push.

"We will guarantee the unity of Spain through dialogue and forgiveness," the 51-year-old insisted.

"In Catalonia and other regions there are citizens who believe that they would be better going their own way. This government believes that a united Spain is a better Spain."

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was one of the first world leaders to congratulate Sanchez on social media platform X, formerly Twitter. 

"It is good that we can continue to work side by side. We see many challenges in the world from a very similar perspective," he said. 

Mass protests against planned amnesty in Spain

Sanchez accused of 'political corruption'

But critics have accused Sanchez of trampling on the rule of law and selling out the country.

"Adopting measures that go against the general interest in exchange of personal benefit is political corruption," the leader of the conservative Popular Party (PP), Alberto Nunez Feijoo, said during the debate in parliament.

Feijoo won the most seats in the election, but failed to secure enough support from other parties in his own bid to for prime minister.

The leader of the far-right Vox party, Santiago Abascal, went even further, calling the amnesty a "coup d'etat."

After the vote, Feijoo walked across the chamber to shake Sanchez's hand as leftist lawmakers applauded and cheered, while Vox party leader Abascal walked out.

The speaker of the house will now convey the result to King Felipe VI. Once published in the State Gazette, Sanchez will be sworn as the new prime minister before the king, most likely on Friday.

Spain protests threaten to turn violent

Several polls show over half of all Spaniards oppose the amnesty and, in recent weeks, tens of thousands of people have joined street demonstrations.

On Wednesday night, protests backed by right-wing political parties turned violent when riot police used batons and shields to beat back crowds gathered outside the Socialist party headquarters in Madrid.

Over 1,600 police were deployed on Wednesday and Thursday for the parliamentary debate and vote, according to the Interior Ministry.

Among Sanchez's other policies are economic plans including making public transport free for young people and the unemployed, and continuing to link pension hikes to inflation.

But the nature of his coalition, which includes smaller, leftist, regional parties with different ideologies, could make it difficult for him to pass legislation.

mf/rt (AFP, AP)