Feijóo is out of Spain's presidential race: What will Sánchez do now?

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Feijóo is out of Spain's presidential race: What will Sánchez do now?
Spanish acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez arrives at The Congress of Deputies to attend of a second parliamentary vote to elect Spain's next premier, in Madrid on September 29th 2023. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

With Alberto Núñez Feijóo's bid to become premier definitively over Friday, Spain's Pedro Sánchez now faces an opportunity to remain prime minister, although the price for securing support from hardline Catalan separatists is rising.


As expected, the leader of the right-wing Popular Party failed in his bid to secure support to be inaugurated premier, losing an initial parliamentary vote on Wednesday and a second one on Friday.

Despite winning the most votes in July's inconclusive election, he could only muster the backing of 172 lawmakers from his right-wing Popular Party (PP), the far-right Vox and two other tiny factions.


After failing Wednesday's vote, he needed just a simple majority on Friday which he failed to secure, with only 172 votes in favour to 177 against in the 350-seat chamber.

The remaining vote was ruled invalid after one lawmaker accidentally voted in favour when he intended to vote against.

The baton now passes to outgoing Prime Minister Sánchez, who in the coming week will be tasked by King Felipe VI with forming a government and will have to pass an identical vote to be inaugurated as premier before November 27th.

If Sánchez fails, Spain will automatically be forced to hold new elections, most likely in mid-January.

In power for more than five years, Sánchez has proved to be a tenacious political survivor and is confident he will be returned to power with the backing of the far left along with Basque and Catalan regional parties.

Spain, he said "is poised to resume this progressive coalition government in the very near future," he told a gathering of European Socialists on Thursday.

Feijóo talks to the press after losing the second and final investiture vote on September 29th. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)


Risky strategy

Despite his optimism, negotiations to secure the needed support are becoming increasingly risky.

Although he can count on the support of the far left and the Basque nationalists, Sánchez now needs to secure the all-important backing of JxCat, a hardline Catalan separatist party cast in the role of kingmaker.

In exchange for its support, JxCat wants an amnesty for those facing legal action over the failed 2017 Catalan separatist bid, which sparked Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

That would effectively exonerate its leader Carles Puigdemont, who led the independence drive and then fled Spain to avoid prosecution.

The moderate Catalan separatist ERC party, which regularly propped up Sánchez's government, has also upped the ante, demanding talks on holding a referendum on self-determination -- a long-term demand of the separatists.


Also Friday, Catalonia's regional parliament passed a resolution proposed by the two separatist parties saying they will not back the formation of any national government "that does not commit itself to working towards establishing the conditions for holding a referendum".

Puigdemont headed Catalonia's government when it staged an independence referendum on October 1st, 2017 despite being banned by the courts.

It was followed by a short-lived unilateral declaration of independence, sparking Spain's worst political crisis in decades.

The PP government in power at the time in Madrid immediately sacked Catalonia's regional government and suspended the wealthy northeastern region's autonomy.

Catalonia's separatist leaders were either jailed or fled abroad. Sánchez's Socialists appear open to issuing an amnesty despite unease within the party and some of its followers, but have made clear that allowing a referendum would be tantamount to crossing a red line.

"There is no path in that direction. There has never been and there still is none," Salvador Illa, who heads the Catalan branch of the Socialist Party and who is close to Sánchez, told Cadena Ser radio on Friday.

"And if we have to hold new elections, we will and voters can decide. But the path of division and rupture is a dead end," he separately told the Rac1 Catalan radio station.



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