Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday secured backing in the Congress of Deputies for a fifth extension to the state of alarm that he introduced in mid-March in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. He won the vote on Wednesday thanks to the support of parties such as center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and leftist Más País, as well as a few smaller groups in the lower house of parliament.
The extension received 177 votes in favor in the 350-seat Congress, but saw more votes in opposition than ever: 162. Voting no were the main opposition Popular Party (PP), far-right Vox, the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), Together for Catalonia, Compromis, Foro Asturias and CUP. There were 11 abstentions.
The state of alarm – the lowest of three that exist under Spanish law – will be extended until June 7, although Sánchez is planning to then ask for one last extension until late June, when the national coronavirus deescalation plan should be coming to an end in most of the country.
The leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE), who heads a minority government in coalition with the leftist Unidas Podemos, has been facing growing opposition to these extensions, which right-of-center parties are framing as a desire by the executive to hold on to its emergency powers. He has also faced criticism for not consulting with the opposition or regional chiefs before taking decisions during the crisis.
But Sánchez argued on Wednesday ahead of the vote that the state of alarm is an essential tool to maintain the confinement measures that have led to a downward trend in coronavirus deaths and infections.
“The state of alarm and the deescalation are working,” said Sánchez in Congress at the outset of the debate. “The state of alarm will not last one day longer than necessary. Nobody has the right to throw away what we have all achieved together.
“I apologize to citizens for any mistakes made, which were always dictated by the exceptionality of the situation,” he added. “Beyond our isolated differences of criteria, we have all had to work side by side. We have all been united by the same desire: to save lives.”
But the leader of the main opposition group, Pablo Casado of the Popular Party (PP), accused Sánchez of wasting time and overstepping his powers.
“You are incapable of protecting Spaniards beyond keeping them in this drastic reclusion,” he said about Spain’s coronavirus lockdown, which has been one of the strictest in the world. “You are regulating fundamental rights through ministerial orders, which shows how little you respect the rule of law. You have overstepped all boundaries. The state is not you, even if your propaganda machine makes you out to be the Sun King,” added Casado, alluding to France’s absolutist monarch Louis XIV. “You are simply the government leader with the slimmest support in all of [Spain’s] democratic history.”
“Nobody can stop the Spain of the balconies and the pots and pans,” added Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox, which became the third-largest force in the lower house of parliament at the November 2019 election. Abascal was alluding to growing anti-government protests that began in the upscale Madrid district of Salamanca and have since extended to other parts of the city and country. Marchers at these protests, which often take place in wealthy neighborhoods, argue that the lockdown is restricting their fundamental freedoms.
Center-right Ciudadanos made its support conditional on Sánchez abandoning his early idea for a one-month extension to the state of alarm. “Mr Sánchez is making it very hard for us because he is unyielding and unilateral; he has created uncertainty, he has abused the state of alarm, he has made many mistakes, but we have to vote responsibly,” said Edmundo Bal of Ciudadanos. “We cannot take a step back now.”
The Catalan Republican Left (ERC) – which supported or abstained at the previous extensions – withdrew its support given its displeasure that the government had negotiated with Ciudadanos, a party that strongly opposes Catalan independence.
“What is being recorded here today is not ERC’s rejection of your state of alarm, but once again and perhaps definitively, the government’s refusal to negotiate with the ERC. You have chosen the [political] right,” said one of the party’s lawmakers, Gabriel Rufián, whose party was instrumental in getting Sánchez back in the prime minister’s office following the latter’s inconclusive November victory. Part of that investiture deal included holding talks between central and Catalan authorities over the future of the region, but these were placed on hold when the coronavirus crisis hit.
English version by Susana Urra.