Coalition will govern Spain for first time

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Madrid, Jan 8 (IANS) Spain will be governed by a coalition for the first time in its modern democratic history after the Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sánchez’s program with the left-wing group Podemos was narrowly passed by a majority of just two lawmakers.

Targeted efforts by right-wing parties to pressure PSOE lawmakers to rebel failed as lawmakers in the lower house of Parliament voted 167 to 165 in favour of putting an end to months of political stalemate while 18 MPs from Catalan and Basque parties agreed to abstain, Efe news reported on Tuesday.

A simple majority was all the coalition proposed by Sánchez and Unidas Podemos (“United We Can”) leader Pablo Iglesias required in a second round of voting, following an unsuccessful bid to secure an absolute majority on Saturday.

The mathematics of the vote were tested when the regional politician from the Canary Islands reneged on her party’s commitment to back the coalition.

Other leaders of the smaller parties in the Chamber came under intense pressure to follow suit.

Such a narrow margin for error was reflected in the decision by Aina Vidal, a member a Catalan affiliate of Podemos, to turn up to vote despite being ill with an aggressive form of cancer.

The young politician received a standing ovation and a bouquet of flowers from her colleagues in recognition of her commitment.

With her help, Sánchez secured the two-vote cushion he needed to deliver Spain’s first coalition government since the country’s return to democracy in the late 1970s after the death of former dictator Francisco Franco.

Historically divisive topics like the monarchy, the Republic and the Basque terror group and newer ones such as Catalan separatism became feature in the debate that resembled a series of political party rallies more than a dissection of the coalition proposals.

Opposition MPs jeered Sánchez as soon as he opened proceedings.

“You have made the situation tense to see whether any opportunities would arise. You have failed. A progressive coalition will govern Spain,” Sánchez said after requesting his right to speak be respected. “This Chamber does not belong to you.”

His reference to the last leader of the Spanish Second Republic went down well with those sitting on the left of the hemicycle but was counter with chants of “long live the king” by those sat in the right-wing opposition.

Pablo Casado, the leader of the Popular Party, a bastion of Spanish conservatism, opened by exalting King Felipe VI, which prompted more monarchist chants.

He focused scorn not on the content of the coalition program but the way in which Sánchez would return to the Moncloa; with cooperation of Basque and Catalan separatists.

“Spanish democracy has had two great enemies; terrorists and coup-plotters, you have put the future of Spain in their hands.”

Santiago Abascal, whose far-right party Vox became the third force in Spanish politics in November, was even more explicit in his accusations, describing the coalition as “a government reliant on the permission of ETA.”

The Basque terror group has been present in the investiture debates despite the fact it laid down its arms in 2011 and dissolved in 2018.

Iglesias, one of the few who did discussed the details of the coalition agenda, repudiated the right-wing leaders: “You do not speak in the name of the victims of terrorism. Stop using their pain for your own benefit.”

Oscar Matute, representing EH Bildu, a Basque separatist party that abstained Tuesday, branded right-wing MPs “hooligans” for their behaviour in the debate, adding that they were “uncomfortable with our very existence.”

Faced with the prospect of a progressive coalition, the PP, Vox and Ciudadanos (“Citizens,” C’s), a center-right party, have presented themselves as defenders of Spanish unity and the Constitution in the face of Catalan and Basque separatism.

Vox owes much of its success to the nationalist backlash that followed an abortive and illegal Catalan independence referendum in 2017.

Twelve Catalan separatist leaders, including the head of the ERC Oriol Junqueras, were last year sentenced to up to 13 years in prison for their involvement in the referendum.

Instead of fielding its leader to address lawmakers on Tuesday, the ERC decided to put forward Montserrat Bassa, the sister of one of the prisoners.

Sánchez and Iglesias made a pact to present a coalition government in November last year just after the repeat elections failed to overturn the hung parliament that resulted from the snap national vote on 28 April.

The rise of Vox into third place in the Chamber added impetus to the deal.

Although Tuesday marked a historic day in Spanish politics, the coalition could still face an uphill struggle in Parliament if negotiations to soothe tensions between the government and regional powers in Catalonia do not go to plan.

–IANS

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