Spain’s caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was voted back in to power by Congress at the second round of an investiture debate on Tuesday.
As expected, the leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE) won a simple majority of just two more “yes” than “no” votes. In the end, 167 deputies voted in favor (PSOE, Unidas Podemos, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Más País, Compromís, Nueva Canarias, Galician Nationalist Bloc (BNG) and Teruel Existe); 165 against (Popular Party (PP), Vox, Ciudadanos (Citizens), Together for Catalonia, Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), Navarra Suma, Coalición Canaria, Foro Asturias and the Regionalist Party of Catalonia (PRC)); and there were 18 abstentions: (Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and EH Bildu).
Sánchez will now head the first coalition government since the days of the Second Republic (1931-1939). Sources at La Moncloa, the seat of the Spanish government, said that he could be sworn in and appoint his Cabinet as early as Wednesday.
The new PSOE-Unidas Podemos administration is planning to introduce tax hikes for higher earners and large corporations, and to increase the minimum wage. But the coalition government falls short of an absolute majority in Congress, and will require bill-by-bill support in order to get legislation passed.
Sánchez had been trying to form a government since the general election of April 2019, and again after the repeat election in November, which gave him an indecisive victory. In the meantime, far-right Vox surged to become the third-largest force in Congress, prompting Sánchez and Unidas Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias to quickly clinch a leftist coalition deal that had previously been rejected by the PSOE leader.
The difficulties faced by Sánchez reflect the political fragmentation in Spain, where new parties emerged on the back of the economic crisis, breaking the traditional two-party rule by the PSOE and the conservative Popular Party (PP). Spaniards have voted at four general elections since 2015.
A weekend session
The investiture session to confirm Pedro Sánchez in office began on Saturday and was put to a first vote on Sunday. As expected, the bid did not prosper: 166 deputies voted in favor, short of the 176 required for an absolute majority. But the second round only needed more yes than no votes, something that Sánchez secured after weeks of negotiations with regional parties.
Chief among these was the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), a separatist group that agreed to abstain at the second round in exchange for opening talks between the central and Catalan governments regarding the ongoing situation in Catalonia.
The fact that the investiture session was scheduled on a weekend and in the middle of the King’s Day celebrations reflects the sense of urgency felt by the PSOE, which wanted to have a government up and running before the end of the year.
“Coalition or deadlock”
Tuesday’s debate was shorter than the first round, and began with a 10-minute speech from the prime ministerial candidate, Pedro Sánchez. “In the last four years we have had a government with full powers for a year and a half,” he said to the assembled deputies. “It would be unacceptable for something like this to happen in the future. We have to find mechanisms so that this vacuum is not repeated. I promise, my group and I, to find formulas to facilitate government majorities rather than majorities of deadlock.”
Sánchez also had a message for the opposition parties that have been questioning the legitimacy of the coalition government. “The first principal of a democracy is to accept the result at the polls,” he said. “There are only two options: a progressive coalition or more deadlock for Spain.”
Sánchez ended his speech with a quote from the prime minister of the Second Spanish Republic, Manuel Azaña, words that were also cited by his predecessor, PSOE Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, in 2007: “No one has the right to monopolize patriotism.”
The leader of the conservative PP, Pablo Casado, began his response to Sánchez by “asserting the maximum authority of the state, our King Felipe VI.” This was greeted by applause from his deputies, who stood up to clap and shouted “Long live the king!”
Casado went on to argue that today’s debate was not a vote on an investiture, but rather a “regime change.” The PP leader said that the PSOE had strayed outside the confines of the Constitution and was forming a “government against the state.” The PP leader said that the “extremists” are Sánchez and his partners. “Your disguise as a moderate has slipped thanks to all of your lies,” he added.
“Now you have the problem,” Casado continued. “If you serve your anti-system partners, Spain will be broken up. If not, they will cast you into the street.”
English version by Susana Urra.