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Spain's Socialist candidate elected as parliament speaker

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AFP/The Local - [email protected]
Spain's Socialist candidate elected as parliament speaker
Socialist MP Francina Armengol (C), reacts to being elected as new speaker during the Parliament's constitutive sitting at the Congress of Deputies in Madrid on August 17, 2023. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

Francina Armengol, the candidate proposed by Spain's Socialist party, was on Thursday elected by lawmakers as the parliament's new speaker, a win for Pedro Sánchez in his fight to be re-elected as prime minister.

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Armengol, 52, was elected with an absolute majority of 178 votes in the 350-seat chamber, her election secured following a last-minute deal with the hardline Catalan separatist party JxCat, which has been cast in the role of kingmaker.

Thursday's vote is widely seen as a trial run ahead of a crucial investiture vote - which determines who forms the government - expected next month.

During the July polls, neither the left nor the right won the 176 mandates for a working majority in the 350-seat Congress of Deputies - with each side only able to amass the cross-party support of 171 lawmakers.

That has put JxCat in an influential position, for how its seven lawmakers vote - both on Thursday and in the investiture vote - could be decisive.

Shortly before the session began at 0800 GMT, Spanish media reports said JxCat had reached a last-minute deal to back Francina Armengol, the Socialist candidate proposed by the acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

"Everything suggests Francina Armengol will get more votes than Cuca Gamarra," public television said before the vote, referring to the candidate proposed by Alberto Núñez-Feijóo's right-wing Popular Party (PP), which came first in the election.

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Now that Armengol has been confirmed as the new speaker, Sánchez is one step closer towards being re-elected as prime minister, although analysts said he would still have a tough road ahead.

"It would be a good sign for (Sánchez) but by no means guarantees his appointment for another term, given substantial obstacles to meeting JxCat's demands," said Federico Santi, an analyst at Eurasia Group in London.

After choosing a speaker, the parliament's first job will be to chose a prime minister, with an investiture vote due later this month or in early September.

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Solid guarantees

The Catalan separatists have set the bar high for their support in any investiture vote: an amnesty for anyone pursued by the Spanish justice system over their failed 2017 independence bid and a referendum on self-determination.

JxCat leader Carles Puigdemont demanded Wednesday solid guarantees before offering support to Spain's next government.

"We have no confidence in Spanish political parties," wrote the Catalan separatist on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

"We cannot move forward on the basis of promises made by those who always fail to keep them, so we need to see solid guarantees before committing to vote."

Puigdemont, 60, headed the regional government of Catalonia at the time of the thwarted secession bid, which involved an illegal referendum followed by a short-lived declaration of independence.

He fled Spain shortly after to avoid prosecution and currently lives in Belgium from where he leads JxCat.

In what was widely seen as a nod to the separatists, Sánchez proposed Armengol as parliament speaker. She was regional president of the Balearic Islands, where Catalan is widely spoken, from 2015 to 2023.

Sánchez also pledged Wednesday to promote the use of Catalan, Basque and Galician within Europe - a long-running demand of nationalist parties.

"Spain speaks Castilian Spanish but also Catalan, Basque and Galician," he told a gathering of newly elected Socialist lawmakers.

"We are going to promote the use (of these languages) within EU institutions in a commitment I will carry out during Spain's presidency of the European Union," he said of the role Spain took over on July 1st.

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