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Spain Has Excluded the Far Right, for Now. But at What Cost?

Though it won the most votes in July, Spain’s conservative Popular Party failed to form a government with the help of ultra-right Vox. Spain's parliament reappointed Pedro Sánchez as prime minister in November. Sánchez promised amnesty to the perpetrators of Catalonia’s illegal 2017 independence vote. This controversial move has calmed center-regional relations but inflamed left-right ones.
By
Pedro Sanchez

07.01.2023 Ukraine. Kyiv. Pedro Sanchez portrait of Pedro Sanchez Perez-Castejon, Spanish economist and politician. High quality photo © Sarakhan Vadym / shutterstock.com

December 28, 2023 02:55 EDT
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On November 17, Pedro Sánchez became Prime Minister of Spain for a third time. Against all odds, the pragmatic prime minister formed a minority government with the support of seven parties representing a broad range of ideologies. Even though Sánchez’s party, the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party (PSOE), finished second in the June elections with 122 deputies (31.7% of the votes), it gathered parliamentary support for him to become prime minister. Sánchez, in power since 2017, received 179 votes from the 350 parliamentarians, elected in a snap election on June 23.

The conservative Popular Party (PP), which won the most seats in parliament, taking 136 deputies (33.05% of the votes). In order to gain the magic number of 176 seats, then, it would have needed to work with the far-right Vox, which won 33 seats. This would have been the first time a far-right party were part of a ruling coalition in Spain. But, even together, the two parties did not reach 176 seats, and the PP was unable to form a government.

By installing the new Sánchez government, Spain is resisting the global trend. Democratic decline, especially in Europe, has led to the formation of coalition governments between conservatives and ultra-rightists in many countries. The Netherlands, where the far-right Party for Freedom won a plurality of parliamentary seats, may soon become the next country to fall to this trend.

Sánchez has spoken of the need to create a “wall” against the right. Given troubling attacks against democracy in Brazil and in the USA, Sánchez has reaffirmed his commitment to combating any assault on Spain’s democracy.

Amnesty for Catalan separatists

Unlike the PP, the Socialists negotiated the support of Catalan separatist parliamentarians in exchange for an amnesty law. Amnesty would forgive those involved in Catalonia’s illegal independence attempts in 2014 and 2017.

The main support for Sáchez came from two separatist parties — the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the conservative Together for Catalonia (JxC), — each party gave him seven valuable votes. The most sought-after support came from JxC, which hardened its secessionist positions during the Catalan independence process.

The leader of JxC, Carles Puigdemont, fled Spain in 2017, when he was the president of the Catalan region, so as not to respond to the numerous legal actions arising from the independence process. The amnesty law, negotiated in Belgium directly with Puigdemont, a fugitive from justice, forgives all his crimes and those of 400 people.

The Right is up in arms over amnesty

However, there is a notable contradiction in the amnesty bargain: Instead of promoting democratic coexistence, it is fostering further polarization. Puigdemont insists on acting in favor of Catalonia’s independence, despite benefiting from an amnesty, which is an act of forgiveness granted from the Spanish government. This inconsistency, instead of pacifying the political debate, sparked large-scale demonstrations led by the far-right Vox and the conservative PP.

The reaction of these parties to the amnesty was to mobilize their activism on the streets of large cities with Francoist symbols and chants. In parliament, deputies from these parties began to speak about what was already being said on the streets: that Sánchez’s government is illegitimate.

The Vox party classifies the agreements that led to the renewal of Sanchez’s government as a coup d’état. The mobilization also reached the internet. The PP launched a campaign with the hashtag #helpspain, and on an X account, a party councilor suggested that Sánchez “deserves a shot in the back of the head”.

Misinformation regarding amnesty is the driving force behind the radicalized response. Contrary to what is speculated, amnesty is permitted by the Spanish constitution and Spain has already had a previous amnesty law. Furthermore, pacts with secessionists have often been used in the past to elect prime ministers in the country.

The divergent opinions of voters on the amnesty deepens the division and distances Spain from a resolution of its territorial crisis. Within Catalonia, only 20% of PP and 6% Vox voters in Catalonia favor the amnesty law, while 49% of Socialist voters are in favor.

Among voters from secessionist parties, there is a fear that Vox, founded in 2013 with a strongly nationalist, anti-secessionist platform, will eventually participate in a Spanish government. So, it is only natural that secessionist parties support a Socialist government. In Spain, Socialist-led governments, in addition to containing the ultra-right, have historically been more open to recognizing the idea of ​​the “Catalan nation” and granting autonomy to the various Spanish regions.

Spain over the last 45 years has celebrated the diversity of its different regions. Spain is a unitary democracy, but its regions have significant autonomy. Today this territorial model of plurality is exhausted. Neither separatist ambitions nor the monolithic nationalism of Spanish supremacists are compatible with the current system. But ironically, it is left- and right-wing secessionist parties are enabling Spain to withstand the global democratic downturn. Such resistance, however, comes at a high price. Only time will tell how much Sánchez’s deal with the secessionists will cost.

[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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