Politics

Scuffles over seats, a sprained ankle, and an apology to Spaniards as deputies sworn in

Socialist Meritxell Batet is elected new Congressional speaker as parliament convenes, while far-right party Vox secures a high-ranking place on her committee

Re-elected speaker in Congress, Meritxell Batet (c), is applauded by colleagues on Tuesday.
Re-elected speaker in Congress, Meritxell Batet (c), is applauded by colleagues on Tuesday. ULY MARTÍN / EL PAÍS

There were plenty of memorable events inside Spanish Congress on Tuesday as newly elected lawmakers were sworn into their roles following the repeat general election of November 10.

With no new government in sight and greater parliamentary fragmentation than ever, there are few political certainties left in a country that has held four national elections in as many years.

One widely expected outcome came to pass as Meritxell Batet, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), was re-elected house speaker in a second round of voting, securing 166 votes in the 350-seat chamber.

There was no such certitude regarding the makeup of the Mesa del Congreso, the speakers’ committee that oversees the functioning of the lower house. In the end, despite early attempts to exclude the far-right party Vox, one of their representatives, Ignacio Gil Lázaro, was awarded a seat.

This body now has three delegates from the PSOE, three from the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos, two from the conservative Popular Party (PP) and one from Vox, which surged in the polls on November 10 to become the third-largest force in Congress.

Seating scuffles

Before scoring a spot on the Mesa, the ultra-nationalist party had already made a show of force by arriving early and taking up the central seating space in Congress. This sparked a row between Luis Gestoso of Vox and Marcos de Quinto, a former Coca-Cola executive who is now a deputy for the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), which had occupied that area in the past. This is also the area traditionally used by regional parties with nationalist and separatist sympathies.

The incident escalated into a physical confrontation. Some parliamentary sources said that Gestoso pushed De Quinto, while Vox told the EFE news agency that it was De Quinto who pushed Gestoso and knocked him to the ground. Other witnesses said nobody ended up on the floor. “There was only pushing and shoving,” reported one lawmaker.

While nobody was hurt in the scuffle, another lawmaker sustained an injury after slipping on the stairs. Adriana Lastra, the parliamentary spokesperson for the PSOE, sprained her ankle as she was heading down to cast her vote for congressional speaker, and required medical attention.

Old and young

The ceremony was presided by a committee made up of the oldest and youngest members of the house. Agustín Javier Zamarrón, 73, who has been likened to the early 20th-century writer Valle-Inclán because of his flowing white beard and solemn demeanor, opened Congress with an apology to Spaniards over their politicians’ inability to form a government. In early May, Zamarrón also presided over the start of the previous parliament, which lasted seven months. If no government emerges soon, this newly inaugurated political term could be headed the same way.

Sitting with Zamarrón was the 23-year-old Marta Rosique, of the Catalan Republican Party (ERC), who sparked a row when she began naming the individuals serving prison sentences for their role in the 2017 unilateral secession attempt before reading out the list of elected deputies. This drew loud booing from Vox and applause from her own party, which could hold the key to forming the next Spanish government. Zamarrón scolded her and said it is better “to forget about passing clouds.”

With reporting by Anabel Díez, Javier Casqueiro and Juan Navarro.

English version by Susana Urra.

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