Spanish king tasks Pedro Sanchez with forming new government (but no date set yet)

Spain's King Felipe VI on Wednesday tasked acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez with forming a new government even though he lacks support from other parties to form a workable majority in parliament.

Spanish king tasks Pedro Sanchez with forming new government (but no date set yet)
Spain's King Felipe VI (R) welcomes incumbent prime minister Pedro Sanchez at the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid. Photo: AFP

After meeting party representatives at the royal palace since Tuesday, as is the norm after an election, the king had formally asked the Socialist leader to attempt to form a government with enough backing the assembly to govern, the Spanish parliament's speaker, Meritxell Batet, told reporters.    

“It is a task which I assume with honour, with responsibility and with enormous gratitude to the Spanish people,” Sanchez told a news conference.    

His Socialists won 120 seats in the 350-seat parliament — three fewer than it won in April — in a repeat general election on November 10 that saw far-right party Vox surge to third place.

Two days after the election, the Socialists signed an agreement with the hard-left party Podemos, which won 35 seats, to form a coalition government in what would be the first such power-sharing deal in Spain's modern history.

But to achieve an absolute majority of 176 seats required to win a confidence vote and be sworn in for another term, Sanchez still needs the support of several smaller parties including Catalan separatists ERC, which won 13 seats in last month's polls, Spain's fourth general election in four years.

The Socialists and the ERC have held talks for several weeks but so far failed to reach an agreement.

The ERC wants to discuss the possibility of holding a legally binding independence referendum in Catalonia, which Spain's central government steadfastly refuses to agree do.   

The wealthy northeastern region was rocked by protests, some of which turned violent, after Spain's Supreme Court in October sentenced nine Catalan separatist leaders to lengthy prison terms for their role in a failed 2017 independence bid.

Among those sentenced to jail is ERC leader and former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras.   

“The negotiations need to be discreet,” Sanchez said.   

Since striking a deal with Podemos in November, Sanchez has cooled talk of facing an investiture vote in parliament by Christmas and on Wednesday he did not give a timeframe for when it could take place, saying only that the country “does not have time to lose”.

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Row in Spain over reports King Felipe’s sisters got Covid vaccine in the UAE

Reports that Spanish King Felipe VI's sisters got vaccinated for the coronavirus in the UAE sparked controversy Wednesday, with hard left party Podemos, part of the ruling coalition, saying such "privileges" served to "discredit" the monarchy.

Row in Spain over reports King Felipe's sisters got Covid vaccine in the UAE
Spain's Royal Family - Princesses Elena and Cristina are directly next to King Felipe's right (in the blue suit). Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP

According to El Mundo and El Confidencial, Princess Elena, 57, and Princess Cristina, 55, got the inoculations in February while visiting their father, ex-king Juan Carlos, in Abu Dhabi.

The two royals would not yet qualify for the jab under Spain’s Covid-19 immunisation programme, which gives priority to older people and the most vulnerable.

Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014, moved to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in August amid growing questions over his financial dealings.

A spokesman for the royal palace refused to comment on the reports on the grounds that the princesses are formally “not part” of the institution and the palace has no say in their activities.

Podemos, the junior partner in Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority coalition government which is staunchly anti-monarchy, strongly criticised the royals.

“The vaccination of the princesses is more news which contributes to discrediting the monarchy. For the public, this constitutes preferential treatment and privileges,” Equality Minister Irene Montero, a member of Podemos, told public television TVE.

The monarchy is one of several issues which dividing Podemos and the Socialists, which have governed since January 2020.

It is the first time that an anti-monarchy party has been in power since Spain returned to democracy in the 1970s.

The controversy over the vaccinations comes less than a week after Juan Carlos settled a debt of nearly 4.4 million euros ($5.3 million) with the

Spanish tax authorities in a bid to avoid a potential lawsuit. The back-taxes were due on the previously undeclared value of private jet flights — worth eight million euros, according to press reports — paid by a foundation based in Liechtenstein belonging to a distant cousin of Juan Carlos.

The payment caused outrage in Spain, with Sanchez saying he shared the “rejection” which the “majority” of Spaniards feel towards what he called Juan Carlos’ “uncivic behaviour”.

The country’s former intelligence chief, Felix Sanz Roldan, also received the coronavirus vaccine in Abu Dhabi duri

ng a visit to Juan Carlos, according to Spanish media reports.

Spain’s chief of defence staff resigned in January after it was revealed that he got the coronavirus jab in Spain despite not being on a priority list.