Spain’s Sanchez wins tight parliament vote to remain PM

Pedro Sanchez
The Spanish government is on Monday (August 1) set to adopt urgent energy saving measures, Sanchez said | File Photo

Spain’s parliament on Tuesday (January 7) confirmed Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez by a razor-thin margin as prime minister for another term at the helm of the country’s first-ever coalition government since its return to democracy in the 1970s.

Sanchez, caretaker premier since inconclusive elections last year, is seeking another term but this time in a minority coalition government with hard-left party Podemos.

He lost a first confidence vote on Sunday having failed to win backing from an absolute majority in the 350-seat parliament.

For Tuesday’s second vote he needs just a simple majority to remain prime minister.

While the math works in his favour after the Socialists struck a deal last week with the 13 lawmakers from Catalan separatist party ERC to abstain, the numbers still look tight.

Sanchez, 47, could win by just two votes after the sole lawmaker from the regional Coalition Canaria formation broke ranks at the weekend to say she would vote against him instead of abstaining.

Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy, has been in political gridlock for most of the past year after two inconclusive elections in April and November.

Sanchez’s Socialists won a repeat November 10 poll but were weakened, taking 120 seats — three fewer than in April — in an election which saw upstart far-right party Vox surge to third place.

Sanchez quickly struck a deal with Podemos to form what would be the first post-dictatorship coalition government in Spain, despite having previously said that a coalition with the far-left would keep him up at night.

The two parties are pledging to lift the minimum wage, raise taxes on high earners and big business, and repeal elements of controversial 2012 labour market reforms that made it easier to fire workers — measures which have alarmed business leaders who warn they will hurt job creation.

With the two formations’ combined total of 155 seats still falling short of a majority, Sanchez has also secured the support or abstention of several smaller regional parties including the ERC which should see him squeak by in the second confidence vote.

As part of the ERC deal, Sanchez has agreed that the national government should hold talks with Catalonia’s separatist regional administration to resolve the “political conflict”.

Catalonia remains in flux following a 2017 independence referendum which Madrid declared unconstitutional.

“There is no other possible option” to a Socialist-Podemos government, Sanchez told parliament Tuesday ahead of the vote.

“Between this progressive coalition and the continuation of political deadlock, I hope the majority of the chamber picks the progressive coalition.”

Spain’s centre-right parties and Vox accused Sanchez of putting national unity at risk with his pact with the Catalan separatists.

“This government against Spain is the most radical of our history,” said the leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado.

He also accused Sanchez of forming a “Frankenstein government” made up of “communists” and “separatists” who “want to put an end to Spain”, and warned that his coalition would be unable to govern and not last the full four years.

Sanchez came to power in June 2018 after ousting his PP predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote, but he was forced to call elections in April after Catalan separatists refused to back his budget.

“The political landscape remains tricky,” ING analyst Steven Trypsteen said.

“The new government would be a minority government, the Catalan tensions could flare up again and the fiscal situation makes it difficult to increase spending a lot,” he added.