Sexual consent law crisis may be last straw for Spain's divided government

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Sexual consent law crisis may be last straw for Spain's divided government
Rape law crisis may be last straw for Spain's divided govt. Photo: JAVIER SORIANO / AFP

As elections loom, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been forced into firefighting mode, with his embattled left-wing coalition stretched to breaking point by a litany of bitter disputes.


And since his Socialists formed a government three years ago with the hard-left Podemos, the points of friction have been many, including Spain's U-turn on Western Sahara, arms deliveries to Ukraine and the transgender rights law.

But the latest falling out, which centres on changes to a landmark law to fight sexual violence that has been championed by Podemos, appears to be the most serious yet.

Known as "Only yes means yes", the law came into force in October.


It fulfilled a key left-wing pledge to address public outrage over the light sentences initially handed down in a notorious 2016 gang rape called the Manada (or 'wolf pack') affair.
But changing the criminal code paradoxically ended up reducing penalties for certain types of sexual crimes, reportedly freeing some 40 offenders and allowing 400 others to have their sentences reduced.
Under Spanish law, a sentence can be retroactively modified if changes to the penal code benefit the convicted offender.
In a bid to stem widespread public anger over the loophole, the Socialists announced in late January they planned to reform the law.
They presented a bill to that end earlier this week but Podemos has resolutely rejected the Socialists' proposal, saying their bill rips the heart out of the law and effectively returns to the "criminal code of the wolf pack".
In recent weeks, the rhetoric has sharpened, with Podemos accusing Sánchez's Socialists of going along with the far-right over its modifications to an animal rights law that excluded hunting dogs.
For Cristina Monge, a political scientist at Zaragoza University, the ongoing fighting between the two parties is "absurd". "Neither of the coalition partners has anything to gain by this row"
because their credibility is at stake in the eyes of "the more moderate electorate" and they also risk "demoralising the left", she said.
Since the infighting began, polls have shown "the left losing ground", said Pablo Simón, a political analyst at Madrid's Carlos III University. "The more the government keeps fighting in public... the more damage it will cause," he said.
But as Monge points out, Spain is already well into election season. Regional polls are scheduled for the end of May and a general election by the year's end.
"Podemos is looking to set itself apart" while also looking to weaken the standing of Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz, who is likely to run as a candidate in the general election, she said.
Díaz, the number three in the government and a Communist Party member, recently set up a platform called Sumar which seeks to position itself to the left of the Socialists without being shackled to Podemos.


'Politically, you're dead!'
Sánchez himself has dismissed out of hand any talk of a breach within his coalition. "Split? No there isn't. It's not even on the cards. Quite the opposite," he said this week, insisting he had "confidence" in all his ministers.
Within parliament, the government's regular backers have taken a very dim view of the infighting.
"They need to tone it down," said Íñigo Errejón, head of the left-wing Mas Pais party, urging the government to act "responsibly". But the right-wing opposition Popular Party (PP) has crowed with delight.
Polls suggest the PP is on track for electoral victory although it would probably need the support of the far-right Vox to govern.
"You're dead!" PP lawmaker José Ignacio Echániz shouted at Sánchez in parliament on Wednesday. He later tweeted, for clarification: "Politically, Pedro Sánchez is dead".
"It's a gift, a lifeline for the PP and Vox," said Monge. All the PP needs to do is "just sit back and wait", agreed Simón. "It doesn't need to do anything else."


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