CORONAVIRUS

Spanish PM secures support to extend state of alarm after fierce criticism in Congress

The deescalation of confinement will be “slow and gradual,” warns Pedro Sánchez during debate on Wednesday

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Congress on Wednesday.SEBASTIAN MARISCAL / AFP

As expected, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday secured the support he needed in the Congress of Deputies to extend the state of alarm implemented on March 14 in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The special measures will remain in place until May 9, according to the vote in Spain’s lower house of parliament.

The debate, which lasted 11 hours on Wednesday, saw Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), defend his coalition government’s handling of the crisis, in the face of opposition parties’ fierce criticism of both his actions, and those of Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the junior partner Unidas Podemos.

You cannot go to a funeral but you can go to work on the Metro; an adult can go to buy tobacco and a child can’t go out to play
spokesperson for the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Gabriel Rufián

Sánchez began the debate by warning that the deescalation of coronavirus confinement measures would be “slow and gradual,” in order to ensure that they are safe, but said that he couldn’t rule out that there would be backward steps and reversals depending on the situation in Spain.

“The general confinement will not be lifted until we are ready,” the prime minister said. “The rules will vary,” he added, based on the outlook in the second half of May, so that life can begin according to the “new normality.”

The prime minister also repeated his calls for opposition parties to come together and form a wide-ranging pact to work toward economic reconstruction once the crisis has passed. He committed that if such a deal was reached, the government would not claim the achievements as its own victory. “The success will be collective,” he said.

Talks to seal this pact will take place in a permanent commission in Congress, according to the request of Pablo Casado, the leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), who has so far ruled out a kind of new “Moncloa Pacts,” a cross-party deal reached in 1977 that produced a national socioeconomic recovery program and shored up Spain’s transition to democracy. Sánchez explained in Congress that, for now, the conversations about the “reconstruction” of the country still don’t have a start date, but that they could coincide with the next period of the state of alarm: from April 26 to May 9.

Leader of the Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, in Congress on Wednesday. POOL CONGRESO / Europa Press

Meanwhile, Casado announced that his party would vote in favor of the extension to the state of alarm, but made clear his belief that everything the government has done so far during the coronavirus crisis has been done badly. “This is not a war, it’s a catastrophe,” he said, denouncing the fact that the government has not honored the victims of the coronavirus.

Casado reiterated his earlier criticism of the government’s ignorance of the total number of victims, and for its poor management. “There has not been caution, but rather incompetence,” he charged. “You have not apologized for your bad management when many of these deaths could have been prevented just by implementing the state of alarm a week earlier,” he said.

Sánchez also addressed the U-turn the government made on Tuesday, when it first announced that children would just be able to leave the house – after nearly six weeks of near-total confinement – to accompany their parents on shopping trips, only to later agree that youngsters would be able to go out for short walks. “We were guilty of being too cautious,” he said. “We don’t want to move back a single step. And this is a government that listens.”

We have done things badly and we will continue to do so. A situation like this one is not easy and a lot of decisions are taken
Leader of Unidas Podemos, Pablo Iglesias

The leader of far-right Vox, Santiago Abascal, was equally critical with Sánchez. “Today, your failure on all levels is tragically clear,” he said, blaming the government for bringing about the deaths of thousands of Spaniards due to incompetence. “Spain is a giant Chavista prison with rationing cards,” he argued in reference to former Venezualan leader Hugo Chávez, adding that “the government wanted to abolish democracy.” He also warned the government that the party would not be silenced, whether it be via “lawsuits, persecution in the media, or churlish methods fit for a Bolivarian banana republic.”

Abascal also questioned Sánchez about Deputy PM Iglesias’s attitude toward the Spanish royal family, after the Unidas Podemos leader voiced support for “republican values” via social media during the coronavirus crisis. “Do you support the criticism from your deputy prime minister of the king?” the far-right politician asked.

“You baffle me,” Sánchez replied. “You style yourself as the chief proponent of freedom of expression, at the same time as you behave like [inquisitor] Torquemada. The political families that are in the government have always supported democracy. You were with those who supported the dictatorship. [...] Listening to you, the words of Pedro Zerolo come to mind. He was a social activist, and has now passed away, and was homosexual, people that you class as sick. The difference is that you defend a society in which there is no room for half of us, while we defend a society in which we all fit.”

Leader of the far-right Vox, Santiago AbascalPool Efe / GTRES

The head of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), asked Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias whether “a policy based on imprecise, contradictory and unconsulted announcements about supposed measures are fitting for an organized, planned and shared management of the crisis?” Iglesias responded by saying that “we have done things badly and we will continue to do so. A situation like this one is not easy and a lot of decisions are taken. [...] The important thing is for us all to reach agreement for the production system and the social fabric.”

The spokesperson for the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Gabriel Rufián, announced that his party would abstain in the vote, adding that the group did not trust in “the perverse balance being sought between health and the economy.”

Rufián criticized the fact that currently in Spain “you cannot go to a funeral but you can go to work on the Metro; that an adult can go to buy tobacco and a child can’t go out to play; that you can buy hamburgers via [delivery company] Deliveroo but not bury your parents.” Rufián also stated that the ERC wanted to restart the talks with the government on the Catalan independence crisis before June.

The ERC and other nationalist parties made clear during the debate that the Spanish government cannot necessarily depend on their support should a fourth extension to the state of alarm be sought.

The final vote saw the opposition Vox and the Catalan CUP and Together for Catalonia parties, the abstention of ERC, and votes in favor from the remainder of the groups in Congress.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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