“If you want an agreement, and I doubt you do, let’s reach one in the clear light of day in Congress.” That was the unequivocal response of Popular Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez during a question and answer session today in Spain’s lower house of parliament, the Congress of Deputies.
The challenge came after the Socialist Party (PSOE) politician made a “heartfelt” offer to opposition parties to come together to create a national plan to rebuild the Spanish economy after the damage that has been wrought by the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Pablo Casado called on Sánchez to be more humble and to wear a black tie as a sign of mourning for the victims of the Covid-19 disease
During the debate in Congress today, Casado offered no clue as to whether he would take part on Thursday in the meeting that the prime minister has organized in a bid to explore the possibility of reaching what has become known as a new “Moncloa Pact,” in reference to the cross-party agreements of 1977 that produced a national socioeconomic recovery program and shored up Spain’s transition to democracy after the Franco dictatorship ended.
Casado, who, along with the far-right Vox party, has slammed the government’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic in Spain, called on Sánchez to be more humble and to wear a black tie as a sign of mourning for the victims of the Covid-19 disease, and he blamed him for turning Spain into one of the worst countries in the world in terms of its response to the dramatic health crisis.
Both Sánchez and his deputy prime minister, Pablo Iglesias, from the left-wing Unidas Podemos party, tried to avoid being dragged into responding in a similar tone to the harsh questions that were voiced by the PP and Vox.
Sánchez responded to Casado’s questioning by saying that he was living each one of the coronavirus deaths in Spain as if they were members of his own family, and promised that when the worst of the pandemic is over, the victims and their families would have the tribute that they deserved.
He also rejected the accusation that Spain was responding poorly to the epidemic compared to other countries, pointing to the reduction in the daily infection rate from 35% to the current 3%. He said that this fall was proof that the measures adopted by the Cabinet and the government, such as the strict confinement that has been in place since March 14, were working.
Sánchez called on Casado for “another way of doing politics,” and the “restoration of consensus” among Spain’s political parties
Sánchez repeated that all of the decisions being taken by the government were backed by a committee of experts and scientists, and repeated statements he made during a televised address several days ago calling for political unity.
Sánchez also called on Casado for “another way of doing politics,” and the “restoration of consensus” among Spain’s political parties, insisting on the need for cross-party pacts. “We are working for the general interest, not the individual, and I hope that we can reach an agreement that is so necessary.”
Later in the session, both the PP and Vox focused their attacks on Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, who has become a target of the right-wing parties because they believe that he is imposing radical and populist policies on the government, taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis.
The secretary general of the PP, Teodoro García Egea, sought to blame Iglesias for the high level of deaths per inhabitant that Spain has seen since the outbreak began, an accusation that was levelled by practically all the opposition parties during the debate.
Egea blamed Iglesias for “placing ideology above the health of Spaniards,” and for spreading “propaganda.”
The general secretary of Vox, Macarena Olona, claimed during the debate that “democracy was being bled dry” in Spain, and blamed the “communist” government of Sánchez and Iglesias for taking advantage of the situation to “impose their totalitarian Venezuelan model,” as well as the “destruction of the nation,” going as far to suggest that the government was seeking to outlaw Vox.
Iglesias responded in a measured tone, and once again appealed to the parties to work together with a common denominator: “The Constitution and its social-protection mechanisms.”
Questions for the health minister
Vox deputy Juan Luis Steegman, who is also a doctor, insisted on questioning the health minister, Salvador Illa, on the official figures offered daily by the government since the coronavirus crisis began. “In this mortuary that you have turned Spain into there are thousands of people who have died without the PCR [coronavirus tests],” he stated, pointing to Covid-19 cases that had not been properly counted, seniors who had died from the disease in residences without proper diagnosis, and bodies that had not been subject to proper autopsies. He also claimed there were “collateral victims who have died due to other causes, simply out of fear of going to hospital.”
Illa responded calling for a serious approach and for the opposition not to make use of such worrying statistics, which, he said, were being supplied every day according to the established international criteria.
After 90 minutes, the debate concluded after following a similar pattern, one that saw the opposition aiming to blame the prime minister and Pablo Iglesias for placing Spain in one of the worst situations on a global scale “due to their incompetence.”
Government spokesperson María Jesús Montero echoed the words of other ministers and decried the tone of doom and gloom that Vox and the PP had adopted, at a time when the country was hoping for a different response, one of unity.
English version by Simon Hunter.