Since the inconclusive parliamentary elections of July this year, Spain has struggled to form a government. The winner, the conservative People’s Party (Partido Popular, PP), did get the most votes and seats, but not enough for an absolute majority – not even together with the right-wing Vox party, which lost a lot of seats.
Attempts by the leader of the PP, Alberto Feijoo, to form a government with Vox and some smaller parties came to nothing. The other potential coalition partners are all small regional parties that do not want to form part of a right-wing coalition. The reason is that PP, and even more so Vox, tend to be centralist and want to reduce the regions’ powers rather than expand them.
Finally, the ball was thrown back to the sitting and acting prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialists. Although Sanchez and his leftist partners were actually the losers of the election, he was willing to make major concessions to the regional parties to stay in power. His previous government was already very unstable due to a wide variety of coalition partners.
The decisive factor for the formation of the government is Junts per Cataluna (Together for Catalonia), the separatist Catalan regional party whose leader, Carles Puigdemont, is currently in exile in Brussels due to his illegal secession attempt in 2017. In that year, Catalonia unilaterally voted after an illegal referendum declared its independence, first put this effort on hold and finally approached the Spanish central government for negotiations on secession. There is no provision for such a thing in the constitution and because Catalonia’s government did not immediately take control of all powers, the Spanish state was able to strike back. The Spanish legal system has imposed heavy penalties on Puigdemont and other Catalan separatists. Puigdemont was able to escape by his flight to Brussels, but other leaders of the secessionist movement were convicted and are currently serving prison terms.
For Junts and other separatists, this non-negotiable demand and high price for support for the government was a general amnesty for all those involved in the secession effort. Sanchez and Puigdemont have now agreed that Junts will vote for Sanchez as prime minister, in exchange for a broad amnesty for all actions in connection with the illegal referendum. However, the Socialists still consider the referendum illegal, and Junts is still continuing his attempt to secede from Catalonia based on the referendum.
The only common denominator is therefore that Sanchez will remain prime minister, even if there are otherwise big differences. On November 27, Sanchez is going to put himself up for election in front of the parliament, but as it seems now, thanks to the agreement with Junts, he has enough seats to be elected. Whether Junts will become part of the coalition or support Sanchez’s minority government is not yet certain.
The new government, if it then comes into being, is not only going to be very shaky and Sanchez will have his hands full keeping everyone together, it is also mobilizing the opposition like never before. Many people are outraged that the separatists are getting so many concessions and that Sanchez is effectively breaking the constitution. The opposition begins to consolidate around the issue and build up large-scale protests against the proposed amnesty law and the nascent government.
Although sharp political division is not unusual for many countries, it is even sharper in Spain. To such an extent that there is talk of the two Spains – the one on the right and the one on the left, who deeply despise each other and which is seen as a continuation of the civil war of the 1930s. A recent assassination attempt on a Vox politician in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, makes things even worse.
It is doubtful whether Sanchez’s government will last long, because too many parties in the broad coalition can now demand special arrangements for them and twist the government’s arm.