PM Sánchez demands new General Election to clear way forward

SPANISH Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, as predicted last week, has called a snap General Election for 28th April.

The decision was triggered by last week’s defeat of his Socialist Party’s budget plan in Congress, and it means that Spaniards will be going to the polls for the third time in four years.

Spaniards were not expected to be called to the polls again until 2020, and the decision rules out the possibility of a

so-called “Super Sunday”, on 26th May, when local, regional and European elections will take place.

In a speech that began at 10am, following a Cabinet meeting, Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Sánchez listed his government’s achievements in the last 8½ months, including job creation and initiatives on environmental and social issues.

He also warned against making choices that could lead to greater confrontation in an increasingly polarised country. “Spain does not deserve to get stuck because of partisan interests,” said Sánchez. “Spain belongs to its citizens. It is they who must decide whether to take a step backward. We defend a country where there is room for everyone.”

The decision to call a snap, national election was made after deputies in Congress last Wednesday rejected the Government’s spending plan for 2019.

Sánchez had warned that failure to secure passage for the budget could lead to early elections, and, during two days of congressional debate on Monday and Tuesday, the government made one last attempt to convince other parties to back its plan. But it met with opposition from Catalan separatist parties, from the conservative Popular Party (PP) and from centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens).

“This budget was good for Spaniards, and for each and every one of the territories in our country,” said Sánchez on Friday, in a veiled reference to the increase in funds that had been earmarked for Catalonia.

“We had to present our budget and we did so; unfortunately, it did not prosper. But let me say one thing: there are parliamentary defeats that are social victories. Citizens have seen what this Government wanted for this country.”

The debate was further complicated because a highly-anticipated trial of Catalan separatist leaders opened at the Supreme Court that Tuesday.

The pro-independence movement, which has cast the proceedings as a political trial, had demanded concessions in favour of the 12 defendants, in exchange for support on the budget issue.

The new General Election will take place against the backdrop of increased political fragmentation. Recent opinion polls suggest the PSOE could win the most votes, but not enough for a majority.

And its traditional rival, the PP, could lose voters to an emerging force, the far-right Vox, which for the first time secured parliamentary representation at the recent, regional elections in Andalusia, partly on a message of defending Spanish unity against Catalan separatism.

Anti-austerity group Podemos and liberal Ciudadanos have also become key players in Spanish politics, since the economic crisis ended the country’s two-party dominance.

Sánchez came to power in June 2018 after leading a successful no-confidence vote against former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the PP, in which separatist parties such as the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCAT) provided crucial support.

But Sánchez now heads a minority Government, with just 84 law-makers in the 350-seat house, and he needs support from these same parties to pass legislation.

The ERC and PDeCAT had threatened to withhold their support for the 2019 budget if the Government did not take more steps on the issue of Catalan independence, and the trial of separatist leaders.

One of the defendants is ERC party leader Oriol Junqueras, who took the stand on Thursday.

One of Sánchez’s promises when he took office was to improve relations with Catalonia, which had been damaged badly following Madrid’s decision to suspend regional

self-rule for seven months, in the wake of the unilateral independence declaration.

But talks became increasingly strained as separatist leaders insisted on keeping a new vote on self-determination on the agenda.

Sánchez has always ruled out this possibility, as did his predecessor, on the grounds that such a poll was not allowed by the Spanish Constitution. Last Friday, Sánchez insisted in his address that he was open to talks, saying: “There is room for everything within the Constitution, and for nothing outside of it.”

The Government last week announced that it would include a third-party figure, described variously as a rapporteur or facilitator, at talks with Catalan parties, in a move viewed by the opposition as a concession to separatists’ calls for international mediation.

Tens of thousands of people marched in Madrid on Sunday to protest the move, and to demand early elections, in a demonstration called by the PP, Ciudadanos and the far-right Vox party.

By then, however, the Government had already broken off talks with the Catalan authorities.

“The debate now is whether we want a Spain that lives off nostalgia, for a past that will never arrive and which was not necessarily better,” said Sánchez last Friday.

“The debate is about what kind of Spain we defend. It is evident that the right, with its three parties, defends a Spain in which there is not room for everyone.”


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Posted by on Feb 22 2019. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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