BY ANTON ALFONSIN LARSEN
Last year I was fortunate enough to spend the year in Barcelona, where I enjoyed the food, the football, a touch of academics and countless other excitements. One of my best memories were my almost daily encounters with a gentleman chanting (rather oddly I’ll add) in the middle of Plaça de Sant Jaume (Barcelona’s equivalent of parliament square).
He demanded freedom for Catalonia (Catalunya in the Catalan language). But more specifically, he called for the freedom of those imprisoned for organising an illegal referendum in 2017, with the aim of mobilising a Catalonian secession from Spain. His plea has seemingly been answered, and it has turned out to be Pedro Sanchez’s ticket to re-election as prime minister of Spain.
The results from this year’s elections on the 23rd of July offered hope with no guarantees for Mr Sanchez. A right-wing coalition, consisting of the Spanish conservative party (PP – ‘Popular Party’ translated) and the far-right Spanish nationalist party, VOX, had missed out on the main prize: the tally of 176 seats required in Parliament for an absolute majority.
The celebrations were awkward. Mr Sanchez celebrated nothing more than a stalemate while Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, the leader of PP, celebrated victory in a meaningless popularity contest, but faced calls for his resignation and replacement.
To allow him to retake his seat as prime minister, Mr Sanchez has created a minority coalition with a conglomerate of left-wing progressive parties in the form of SUMAR, headed by Yolanda Diaz, and numerous regional parties. These regionalists range from Galician Nationalists (BNG) to the more controversial groups of EH Bildu and Junts per Catalunya. The latter two consist of a Basque pro-independence party in which numerous former ETA members are active, and a Catalan nationalist party whose leaders are held responsible for the chaos that ensued in a failed 2017 independence referendum. Parliamentary support from many of these nationalists depended on a controversial amnesty law which reprieves those accountable for the Catalan referendum in 2017 of any criminal consequences they subsequently faced.
The Spanish right wing is livid. Pedro Sanchez has broken a significant campaign promise, which Mr Feijóo was quick to remind him about at the investiture debates last week. PSOE, Mr Sanchez’s Socialist workers party, had rejected any discussions surrounding an amnesty or referendums which had been proposed as the requirement for parliamentary support. By signing the amnesty, Mr Sanchez has been accused of launching a coup on Spanish democracy, and his actions have been likened by numerous leaders to those seen in dictatorships.
While it seems, at least for some, that a lesson in Spanish history and dictatorships is long overdue, Mr Sanchez has most certainly been marked present for the recap lecture in the repercussions of breaking campaign promises. A few weeks ago, 170,000 people converged on the streets of Madrid to protest against the law which grants PSOE and Mr Sanchez another four years in office. Mr Feijóo and Santiago Abascal, the leader of far-right nationalist party VOX, joined in support, labelling the prime minister a ‘traitor’ and demanding his resignation.
Re-election already seems a long distance away. Over 50% of PSOE voters oppose the amnesty deal, meaning Mr Sanchez will have to look elsewhere for support. The most obvious route is a post-pandemic recovery and Spanish “reimagination” of domestic and foreign economic offerings. This will range from significant gains in growth and a reduction in economic inequalities, to significant advancements in sustainability and social reform.
Furthermore, Sanchez will face significant parliamentary instability. A key priority is to reconcile the government and those the right-wing labels as “traitors”. The arguably more salient issue is future discussions with the separatists. This amnesty deal lights a small candle at the end of a dead-ended tunnel. Those who dream of opening the tunnel of independence, won’t stand to work with an uncooperative prime minister. Mr Sanchez’s power hangs by a thread and should he be unwilling to cooperate with further separatist efforts, as many fear, he will struggle to pursue the agenda necessary for re-election in four years’ time.
However, Mr Sanchez’s hold on power in Spain must be viewed with a sigh of relief. Despite the dangers of the amnesty deal, Pedro Sanchez and his socialist companion Yolanda Diaz have a formidable partnership. They seek to continue major steps in the reversal of dictatorship-era policies and promoting regional rights, including local language learning, advancements in education and encouraging youth employment. Diaz also stands to make essential progress for Spanish women in the form of significant gender reforms, from basic economic measures to concrete laws concerning sexual consent.
Finally, Pedro Sanchez must take credit for withstanding the European wave of far right anti-woke and xenophobic political movements. It is a clear matter of the lesser of two evils. Spaniards should see the good in the numerous economic and social reforms that await the country. Nevertheless, Mr Sanchez has made a fundamentally bad deal which threatens both parliamentary instability and a virulent opposition, which could massively complicate his second term as prime minister. Only time will tell if his gamble pays off.
IMAGE: Flickr | Creator: PSOE | Copyright: EVA ERCOLANESE