Veteran Basque Socialist becomes new Spanish congressional speaker

Former regional leader Patxi López wins the position in second round of voting

Video: Patxi López is named the new speaker in Congress (in Spanish).Photo: reuters_live | Video: Uly Martín / Vídeo: Reuters-Live!

A new era in Spanish politics began on Wednesday as deputies convened for the constituent session of Congress after the December 20 general election.

Following the inconclusive vote that yielded a fragmented parliament, negotiations between the parties finally took a step forward on Tuesday evening, when enough consensus was reached to elect a new speaker.

López is the first speaker in Spanish democratic history who does not belong to the party that obtained the most votes at the election

Shortly after noon on Wednesday, Patxi López, a veteran Socialist who served as Basque premier between 2009 and 2012, became the first speaker in Spanish democratic history who does not belong to the party that obtained the most votes at the election.

That fact reflects the new need for cross-party negotiations in a scenario where no group has yet found enough support to form a government following the December 20 ballot. A last-minute deal was reached between the Socialist Party and emerging center-right group Ciudadanos to get López sworn in, while the PP was forced to accept the deal despite having the most representatives in Congress.

Podemos did not join the PSOE-PP-Ciudadanos deal to support López in protest over the fact that it is not being allowed to create four separate groups in Congress, representing the anti-austerity party proper and the affiliated groups that it ran with in Galicia, Catalonia and Valencia. Such a move would effectively grant Podemos more subsidies and a greater presence on committees than if it were to have a single delegation.

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Instead, Podemos put forward a nominee of its own, Carolina Bescansa, who showed up in Congress with her months-old baby and breastfed him while the vote got underway.

Under voting rules, each deputy writes down a single name on the ballot, and whoever achieves an absolute majority of votes – 176 – becomes the new speaker. If no candidate achieves this figure, a second round is held in which whoever gets the most votes wins the position.

In a first vote held at around 11.30am, López achieved 130 votes, under the required amount, after Podemos (69 seats) supported its own nominee. The two representatives for Popular Unity also backed Bescansa, who received 71 votes.

Shortly after, Pío García Escudero of the Popular Party (PP) was elected the new speaker in the Senate – where the conservatives had held on to their absolute majority – with 144 favorable votes out of 266.

At 12.08pm, Patxi López officially became the new speaker after the runoff vote produced the exact same result, 130 and 71 votes.

Pío García Escudero of the Popular Party was elected the new speaker in the Senate, where the conservatives had held on to its absolute majority

The new legislature is also being asked to appoint the presiding committee, the nine-member governing body of the lower house. For the first time, six out of the nine members will be women.

Politicians have already warned that the agreement over the next speaker should not be taken to mean that the parties involved will reach a similar pact to get a new prime minister invested.

The main EL PAÍS site is broadcasting live Spanish-language coverage of events in Congress throughout the day in Spanish, including expert analyses and input by correspondents from Portugal and Germany, two countries that also had to deal with fragmented election outcomes.

English version by Susana Urra.

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