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POLITICS

Spain’s stricken Socialist party hit by ‘coup’ attempt

Spain's Socialist party was hit by a "coup" attempt on Wednesday with half of its leadership quitting in a bid to oust leader Pedro Sanchez and unblock the country's political deadlock

Spain's stricken Socialist party hit by 'coup' attempt
Pedro Sanchez is under pressure to resign. Photo: AFP

But while Sanchez remained silent Wednesday evening, his ally and party number two Cesar Luena told reporters the 44-year-old remained firmly in place.   

The Socialists (PSOE) have for months been wracked by internal dissent over Sanchez's leadership during Spain's nine-month political stalemate, as rival parties fail to agree on a government following two inconclusive elections.

The party took a drubbing in two weekend regional polls, and scored historically low results in December general elections and in a repeat vote in June as voters flocked to other upstart parties.

“Seventeen resignations… were handed in today,” a party spokesman told AFP Wednesday.

With two separate, earlier resignations, this takes the number of party executives that have quit to 19 out of 35.

Under party rules, according to Luena, an extraordinary meeting of grassroots members must now be called to elect a new executive, and they will also decide on whether they want their leader to remain.

“Tricks and coups don't have their place here,” said Luena.    

“The Socialist party leader is its secretary general, and the PSOE's secretary general – elected by party members – is Pedro Sanchez.”

Could it unblock situation?

As Spain's political paralysis drags on, some within the PSOE want the party to use its 85 parliamentary seats to help unblock the situation and allow a right-wing coalition government to emerge by abstaining in the necessary vote of confidence.

That, they argue, would avoid a third round of elections and the party could go into opposition and build up strength again.    

But instead the Socialists voted against such a coalition government led by acting conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy earlier this month, prompting it to fail.

Sanchez is now trying to form his own coalition with Podemos, the anti-austerity party that wants to replace it as the country's main left-wing force.

But he would also need the support and seats of nationalist and separatist groupings in Catalonia and the Basque Country in order to form a government – despite being firmly against independence for any region.

In a sign of how bad the rift is within the party, former Socialist prime minister Felipe Gonzalez came out against Sanchez on Wednesday morning.    

“A Frankenstein government is not possible,” he told the Cadena Ser radio station.

“He (Sanchez) told me he would go into opposition, that he would not attempt any alternative government.

“I feel frustrated… as if I had been tricked.”    

Those who resigned Wednesday – among them several so-called “party barons,” or regional presidents — will be hoping that if Sanchez is forced out and if Rajoy attempts to push a government through again, some Socialist lawmakers will abstain.

But they are up against an October 31st constitutional deadline, after which the king will have to dissolve parliament and call a third round of elections.

And many believe that grassroots party members do not want to see a government led by Rajoy come to power.  

Sanchez – the first Socialist party leader to be directly voted in by these grassroots members — will be banking on this to help his cause.

Like Corbyn coup

The mass resignation bears striking similarities to the attempted coup against Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party.  

In June, just days after Britain voted to exit the European Union, moderate Labour lawmakers proposed a no-confidence vote on the veteran socialist's leadership.

A string of his frontbench team then quit in coordinated fashion, each releasing withering resignation letters, before he was defeated by 172 to 40 in the non-binding vote of Labour lawmakers.

But Corbyn, who has the crucial backing of labour unions and was elected last year in a landslide by grassroots party members, survived and was voted back in as leader at the weekend.

By Marianne Barriaux / AFP

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POLITICS

Spain’s Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was in Rabat on Thursday to reset a "strategic partnership" despite criticism from within his left-wing government that it has caved into Moroccan pressure.

Spain's Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Sánchez and a dozen ministers are set to meet Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch for the first “high-level meeting” of its kind since 2015.

“Today we are consolidating a new stage in relations between Morocco and Spain,” Sánchez told journalists in Rabat, saying there was “enormous unexplored potential” between them.

His visit comes less than a year after he drew a line under a year-long diplomatic crisis by reversing decades of neutrality in the Western Sahara conflict to back Morocco’s position.

But Sánchez has faced criticism from both the left and right for the concession to Morocco, including from his administration’s number three, Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz of the hard-left Podemos party.

She has declined to join this week’s trip, in line with her party’s rejection of Sánchez’s “unilateral” U-turn on Western Sahara.

Spain’s right-wing opposition has also slammed Sánchez over the policy, with González Pons, a member of the European Parliament from the Popular Party, saying there was “no greater humiliation than bowing to the will of Morocco”.

Sánchez has defended his move as essential for Spanish interests.

On Thursday he called for new Spanish investments in Morocco, where his country is already the third-biggest foreign investor.

Investment deals

Around 20 deals were signed on Thursday to boost Spanish investments in everything from renewable energy to education, as well as doubling Spanish state support for firms setting up projects there.

Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch said the two countries “want to establish a new economic partnership in the service of development”.

The crisis between Rabat and Madrid had begun in 2021 when Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front which seeks independence for Western Sahara, was treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Weeks later, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain’s tiny Ceuta enclave as Moroccan border forces looked the other way, an incident seen as a Moroccan move to punish Madrid.

In March last year, Madrid announced a “new stage” in relations and said it backed the North African kingdom’s plan for the Western Sahara of limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

The following month, Sánchez paid a high-profile visit to Morocco and was hosted by King Mohammed VI.

The Spanish premier came under renewed fire this week for holding a high-level visit to Morocco without being hosted by the monarch.

Conservative newspaper El Mundo said the king “had shown his position of strength by standing Sánchez up”.

However, King Mohammed did this week invite the Spanish premier for a higher-profile state visit in the near future to “reinforce the positive dynamic” in their ties, according to a palace statement.

‘Honeymoon’

Cooperation over clandestine migration and terrorism is also high on the agenda during Sánchez’s visit.

After resuming cooperation with the kingdom, Spain said arrivals of irregular migrants on its territory from Morocco were down by a quarter last year compared with 2021.

Both countries faced criticism from human rights groups after at least 23 migrants died during a mass attempt to enter the Melilla enclave in June 2022.

Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska is set to ask his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit to return deportations of irregular migrants to pre-Covid levels, according to a ministry official.

The visit comes as the European Parliament lifts the immunity of two lawmakers targeted in a Belgian probe into suspected bribery linked to Morocco as well as Qatar.

Morocco has staunchly denied any wrongdoing, but the investigation by Belgian police has sparked tensions between key European states and the North African kingdom.

Moroccan politicians and media have accused France, a staunch ally of the kingdom, of “orchestrating” a European Parliament resolution critical of Morocco’s treatment of the press.

“There’s a honeymoon between Rabat and Madrid, and a cold crisis” between Rabat and Paris, French-Moroccan journalist Mustapha Tossa wrote on news website Atlasinfo.

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