CORONAVIRUS

Prime Minister Sánchez seeks final extension to state of alarm in Congress

The emergency measure is expected to be extended until June 21 thanks to the support of Ciudadanos and the Basque Nationalist Party

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Congress on Wednesday.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in Congress on Wednesday.J.J. Guillén / EFE

Spain’s Congress of Deputies on Wednesday will vote on the sixth and final extension to the state of alarm that was decreed in mid-March by the Cabinet in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The two-week extension will prolong the government’s emergency powers to June 21. Following talks with congressional groups, the executive is expecting to receive between 171 and 176 affirmative votes, and fewer than 150 against. In the 350-seat chamber, 176 votes constitutes a majority, although a simple majority of more yes than no votes is sufficient for the extension to pass.

Today, with caution, we can say that the worst is over
PM Pedro Sánchez

Passage of the extension will be made possible thanks to support from Ciudadanos (Citizens) and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), and to an abstention from the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which voted against the most recent extension on May 21.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), heads a minority coalition with the leftist Unidas Podemos, and has been facing growing opposition in parliament to his requests for two-week extensions. The state of alarm underpins the confinement measures that have been in place since mid-March. Spain is currently deescalating these measures at different speeds, depending on each area’s Covid-19 incidence and other factors such as primary healthcare capacity, and preparedness to deal with potential new outbreaks.

Sánchez also announced that the executive will unify existing prevention measures under a new law in order to avoid new outbreaks, and called for political unity: “The enemy is the virus and politics must serve to fight it together.”

The far-right Vox party recently held street protests against the government, which it claims is deliberately seeking to hold on to its emergency powers. Speaking in Congress on Wednesday, Vox leader Santiago Abascal accused the government of “criminal negligence." He said that Spain has experienced “the strictest confinement in the Western world, and the highest deaths per capita.”

The main opposition Popular Party (PP) holds a similar position to Vox and is no longer supporting Sánchez’s extensions after initially doing so. “In just a few months, [the government] has lost our trust, but also the trust of the Spanish people,” said PP leader Pablo Casado on Wednesday.

Worst months

Speaking in Congress on Wednesday morning, Sánchez defended his government’s actions since mid-March, when the country, hard hit by the pandemic – with 27,127 dead and 239,932 infected according to official figures – went into one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.

“We have been through the worst months in the history of our democracy,” he told the chamber. “It’s been three months that seemed never-ending. Today, with caution, we can say that the worst is over. I am proud to preside the government of a country that has shown discipline, solidarity and responsibility. Since March 11, when the global pandemic was declared, the government has had no other goal than to save lives.”

Fragile majority

Despite Sánchez’s success crafting a new majority for the sixth extension to the state of alarm, nobody in government or in the opposition expects this to become a stable reality going forward. Ciudadanos – which made the jump to national politics during the economic recession as a liberal protest party, then veered to the right under former leader Albert Rivera – has made it clear that its support is on a case-by-case basis, and that it should not be automatically expected.

Current chief Inés Arrimadas, who is seeking to take the party back to the center of the political spectrum, has said that Ciudadanos should not be counted on for the most important vote of all, the new budget, which will probably reach the floor around October. Spain is still functioning under the 2018 budget designed by the PP government of Mariano Rajoy.

Civil Guard row

Wednesday’s plenary session also comes in the middle of a political storm involving Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, whose department recently sacked a high-ranking Civil Guard official, a move that was portrayed by the minister as part of a normal process of “building new teams.”

But on Tuesday it emerged that Colonel Diego Pérez de los Cobos was let go for failing to inform his superiors about ongoing investigations into the public events that took place on March 8, International Women’s Day. A court is probing claims that government representatives authorized large gatherings, including the feminist march held that day, despite existing information about the spread of the disease. The judge had asked the Civil Guard for an analysis on the matter, and has since given instructions to report only to her.

English version by Susana Urra.

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