Spanish MPs cite 1981 coup and Pétain at charged investiture session

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias warns acting PM to be “prudent” because he represents the past

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, addresses Rajoy in Congress.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, addresses Rajoy in Congress.Francisco Seco (AP)

The investiture session to vote Mariano Rajoy back in as Spain’s new prime minister took on historical overtones on Thursday, when speakers cited the failed coup in Spain of 1981 and even the Vichy regime in France during World War II. During the debate, Pablo Iglesias, head of the anti-austerity Podemos, positioned himself as the de facto chief of the opposition in the new Congress, despite being the third-most-voted force at the last elections.

This, he said, is because he feels that the Socialist Party (PSOE) is no longer qualified to play that role after pledging to “deliver” the government to Rajoy’s Popular Party (PP) through an abstention at Saturday’s second round of voting.

“Democracy is not about a symbolic sharing out of positions by two parties that are really one and the same,” said Iglesias, who aimed most of his address at Rajoy. “We are not the same, and we hope to be the government of this country, and we hope you will accept that.”

What planet are you living on? There are 14 parties here. This is a democracy

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera

Iglesias repeatedly warned Rajoy to be careful.

“You have more Spaniards against you than in favor. Even though you are going to be prime minister thanks to Mr Rivera [of Ciudadanos] and the PSOE, Spain wants a government without corruption and a better government. We love our country, where there are many good things despite you. You represent the past and others represent the future. So I would ask you for prudence, Mr Rajoy.”

A coup?

Podemos spokespeople have been repeatedly talking about “a coup,” in reference to the Socialists’ recent decision to abstain in round two of the investiture vote, thereby allowing Rajoy to form a minority government and take Spain out of a 10-month stalemate.

ERC spokesman Joan Tardà warned the Socialists that abstaining is a bad idea.
ERC spokesman Joan Tardà warned the Socialists that abstaining is a bad idea.Emilio Naranjo (EFE)

In one of the most dramatic moments of the session, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera pointed at the ceiling of the chamber, to a spot where it is still possible to see bullet holes left there by civil guards who attempted a coup d’état in Spain’s fledgling democracy on February 23, 1981.

“There are still bullet holes up there,” said Rivera to Iglesias. “There were people voting at the time. Some insurgents stormed the chamber. That was a coup. This government is not a Ciudadanos government, but it is legitimate, and it belongs to all citizens. You talk about a single party, about a coup. What planet are you living on? There are 14 parties here. This is a democracy. We ask you to join the reforms, but also to respect the rules of the game.”

But Rivera, whose 32 deputies will vote for Rajoy after reaching a 150-point deal with the PP to enact reforms, also warned the acting PM that he will be “closely watched.”

“Mr Rajoy, if you don’t deliver [on the reforms], this is not going to last long at all,” he said.

Triple Alliance

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said he will be watching Rajoy closely.
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said he will be watching Rajoy closely.GERARD JULIEN (AFP)

Meanwhile, regional parties with separatist sympathies are already referring to the PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos contemptuously as “the Triple Alliance.”

Aitor Esteban, spokesman for the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), told Rajoy that “you have shown that you have no project for either Catalonia or Euskadi [the Basque Country].”

Joan Tardà, of the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), went further when he addressed the Socialists: “I cannot but tell you that this theory of the lesser evil is so, so, so very dangerous that it can lead you to a tremendous failure.”

“Let me remind you that there are Socialists with dignity: 60 Socialists, just 60, but 60 nevertheless, did not lend their support to Maréchal Pétain. So we applaud the deputies who will vote no to Mariano Rajoy this Saturday,” he said, alluding to Spanish Socialists who will presumably cast a conscience vote against party discipline.

Earlier in the day, PSOE spokesman Antonio Hernando defended his party’s decision to let Rajoy form a government for the good of the country.

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