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ELECTIONS

Pedro Sanchez makes fresh bid to win support for new government in Spain

Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez unveiled Tuesday more than 300 policy proposals including free daycare in a fresh bid to win the support of far-left party Podemos to form a new government and avoid new general elections.

Pedro Sanchez makes fresh bid to win support for new government in Spain
Photo: AFP

His Socialists won April polls but fell well short of a majority, and Sanchez has until September 23 to be confirmed as premier by a deeply fragmented parliament or else fresh elections will be held in November, the country's fourth in as many years.   

Sanchez failed twice in July to be confirmed by the assembly as the Socialists and Podemos were unable to reach an agreement on the formation of a coalition government, which would be Spain's first in the modern era.

This time around Sanchez is no longer seeking to form a coalition with Podemos but instead wants to strike a “pact” with the party in exchange for its support in a parliamentary confidence vote.

A coalition government “was not viable and still is not,” Sanchez said.   

“The conditions are not met for us to be allies in the heart of the government. But that should not make us adversaries. We can be loyal allies like we have been in the past,” he added.

To win the support of Podemos, Sanchez proposed appointing members of the far-left party to the head of public institutions, and he unveiled a series of progressive measures such as free daycare and a minimum income to fight child poverty.

Sanchez came to power in June 2018 by winning a surprise no-confidence vote against conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy with the support of Podemos as well as Catalan separatist parties and Basque nationalists.

But in July Sanchez refused to allow Pablo Iglesias, Podemos's leader, to be part of his government because of major disagreements over policy, including their stance on the Catalan independence question.

Podemos, however, insists on forming part of Sanchez's new government.   

“They can't humiliate us further. We have accepted enough humiliations,” Iglesias said during a TV interview earlier Tuesday.

'Everything is possible'

Spain will face fresh elections unless an “intermediate” solution is found between the Socialists' desire to govern alone and Podemos' goal of governing in a coalition, said University of Zaragoza political scientist Cristina Monge.

The Socialists currently have 123 seats in the 350-seat assembly. Polls suggest the Socialists would win more seats in a new election but still fall sort of a majority, and would again need the support of Podemos and several smaller regional parties to be sworn in.

“Everything is possible but in any case, (a solution) will be decided at the last minute,” said Autonomous University of Barcelona political scientist Oriol Bartomeus.

“The question is if the Socialist party is interested in having fresh elections. If that is the case, this is a 'mise-en-scene'. We don't know if what happened today is a step towards a negotiation (with Podemos) or a lie to say 'I tried',” he added.   

Spain faces several challenges for which it needs a stable government: an ongoing separatist movement in its northeastern region of Catalonia, high unemployment, low wages and job insecurity.

Since 2015, the country has shifted from a two-party system to a deeply fragmented parliament with the emergence of Podemos, business-friendly party Ciudadanos and more recently far-right Vox.

That has resulted in minority governments which have failed to get any major reforms through, and Sanchez was forced to call early elections in February when his draft budget was rejected.

By AFP's Mathieu Gorse

READ ALSO: How can Sanchez avoid fresh elections in Spain?

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ELECTIONS

Catalan separatists boost majority in regional election

Catalan separatist parties boosted their parliamentary majority in a regional election Sunday that was overshadowed by the pandemic and marked by low turnout, more than three years after a failed bid to break away from Spain.

Catalan separatists boost majority in regional election
Jailed ERC leader Oriol Junqueras (R), freed temporarily to participate in the electoral campaign, celebrates result with Catalan acting regional president and ERC candidate Pere Aragones. Photo: AFP
With Spain still grappling with a third wave of coronavirus infections, the vote in the wealthy northeastern region was held under tight restrictions to reduce the risk of contagion.
 
With 99 percent of the votes counted, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialists won the most votes but the three separatist parties together were set to get 74 seats in the 135-seat assembly.
 
That is up from 70 seats won in the last election in December 2017, just months after Catalonia's failed secession bid which led to the jailing of several separatist leaders.
 
To reduce the risk of virus transmission in the region, polling stations were set up in spacious venues like food markets, the area around FC Barcelona's football stadium and the bullring in Tarragona.
 
Voters had to wear face masks, use disinfectant gel provided at polling stations and stand apart while lining up in rainy weather to cast their ballots.
 
During the last hour of voting, which was reserved for people infected with Covid-19, polling station workers wore gloves, facial screens and white protective gowns.
 
The Socialists had 33 seats, up from 17 in the last vote when they finished fourth.
 
Sanchez had hoped the election — Catalonia's fifth in a decade — would end separatist rule in the region which accounts for a fifth of Spain's economy.
 
He fielded his health minister Salvador Illa as his candidate in the hope that his high profile in the fight against the pandemic would help win votes.
 
While separatist parties have been deeply divided over strategy since the failed secession bid, they were not punished by voters and for the first time won over 50 percent of the vote, against 47.5 percent four years ago.
   
The more moderate ERC got 33 seats, the hardline JxC got 32 and the radical CUP nine seats.
 
 
'Amnesia' jibe
 
The result leaves the ERC's main candidate, 38-year-old jurist Pere Aragones, best placed to become Catalonia's next leader.
 
“We have stopped an operation by the (Spanish) state to expel separatists from institutions,” he said after the results were announced.
 
Illa had argued it was “time to turn the page” after over a decade of Catalan nationalists governments focusing on separatism but Aragones dismissed his approach during the campaign as “amnesia”.
 
He has said his party would not turn the page while independence leaders remained in jail over the failed secession bid.
 
Catalonia is currently governed by a coalition led by JxC, which is prone to confrontation with Madrid, and the ERC, which is open to dialogue and has helped Sanchez's minority government pass laws at the national level.
 
 
'We are afraid'
 
The anti-coronavirus measures appeared to discourage people from voting.
 
While some 5.5 million people were eligible to vote, turnout was a record low at 54.4 percent, down from almost 80 percent in the last election.
 
“I hesitated until the last minute whether to come vote or not,” Cristina Caballero, a 34-year-old child educator, told AFP at a Barcelona polling station.
 
“I think these elections should have been postponed.”
 
The regional government tried to put off the election until the end of May because of the pandemic but the courts blocked that move.
 
While more than 40 percent of the 82,000 people assigned to help staff polling stations on the day had asked to be recused, all polling stations were operating normally as of noon, according to the Catalan government.
 
Still, some people picked for polling station duty expressed concern.
 
“Of course we are afraid, I just had cancer and am still on sick leave, but I was called up,” Eva Vizcaino, a 54-year-old office worker, told AFP at a Barcelona polling station.
 
“The last hour is especially frightening, when people with Covid come.”
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