Spain’s acting prime minister, the socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, has a fresh, if fraught, shot at returning to power after his conservative rival Alberto Nunez Feijoo failed in his attempt to take office in an ill-tempered investiture debate that followed July’s inconclusive general election.
Although Feijoo’s People’s party (PP) finished first in the snap general election, it failed to win enough votes to form a government, taking 137 seats in Spain’s 350-seat congress and scoring a far less emphatic win over the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) than had been expected.
Despite knowing he did not have the numbers to reach the absolute majority threshold of 176 seats even with the support of the far-right Vox party and two smaller groupings, Feijoo received King Felipe’s blessing to attempt an investiture session this week. But, as expected, he failed to secure the necessary backing, losing Wednesday’s first debate by 172 votes to 178 and a second debate, held on Friday, by 172 votes to 177, with one null vote.
Feijoo’s failure clears the way for Sánchez to try to put together a new government. The problem is that while the acting prime minister can count on votes from his own party, from its partners in the left-wing Sumar alliance and from a handful of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties, he will also need to enlist the support of Junts, the hardline Catalan separatist party led by Carles Puigdemont.
Puigdemont, who fled Spain to avoid arrest over his role in the unilateral and unlawful push for independence six years ago, has insisted his support will be conditional on the granting of amnesty to him and hundreds of others involved in the attempted secession.
Sánchez’s refusal to rule out such amnesty – not to mention his decision to send the Sumar leader and acting deputy prime minister, Yolanda Diaz, to Brussels to discuss the situation with Puigdemont – has proved deeply controversial.
Feijóo acknowledged that he did not have the support he needed when he addressed congress before Friday’s vote, and once again focused his speech on Sánchez’s apparent plans to consider an amnesty to ensure his return to power.
“I have tried, by sticking to my principles and my commitments and to the parties that have supported me, but I admit it’s likely I won’t be successful,” he said. “Call it failure if you like, but there is no possibility of triumph for any candidate – even if they become prime minister – because lies and deception bring no possible success.”
On Thursday, Junts and the more moderate Catalan Republican Left party (ERC) attempted to ramp up the pressure on the PSOE still further, saying they would not support a central government that did not “undertake to work to bring about the conditions for the holding of a referendum [on regional independence]”.
The socialists have repeatedly ruled out such a referendum and reminded Junts and the ERC of their position in a statement on Thursday evening.
“There is no possible progress down that path,” the PSOE said in the joint communique with its Catalan branch. “The path [to take] is that of coexistence and cohesion, of understanding, and of the social and economic progress of Catalonia and the rest of Spain – always within the bounds of the constitution.”
On Friday morning, Salvador Illa, the former health minister of Spain who now leads the Catalan branch of the PSOE, said the socialists would be happy to fight another general election rather than cave to Junts and the ERC’s demands.
“If we have to go to an election, we’ll go to an election and the people will decide,” he told the Catalan radio station RAC1.
Friday’s final debate was another bad-tempered affair. The PSOE accused Feijoo of wasting the king’s time and congress’s, while Sumar told the PP leader he had come to parliament “to lie to Spain and to yourself”.
Vox called Sanchez “the most corrupt prime minister in the history of Spain” and said the country would not stand for the possible amnesty.
Sanchez now has until the end of November to attempt to form a government. Should that fail, parliament will be dissolved and Spain will return to the polls in January for its sixth general election in nine years. – Guardian service