CONGRESS VOTES IN FAVOUR OF FOURTH EXTENSION TO STATE OF ALARM
Although a fourth extension was all but guaranteed, Pedro Sánchez faced tough opposition and needed last minute support from opposition parties to secure a majority vote to officially extend the state of emergency to combat the coronavirus crisis.
Sánchez’s request for an additional period until May 24th was met with growing objections from the opposition, and the prime minister, who heads a minority government in coalition with junior partner Unidas Podemos, was forced into last-minute negotiations to secure the simple majority of more yes than no votes he needed in the 350-strong Congress.
“We have managed a partial victory against the virus with everyone’s sacrifice,” he said at the start of the debate on Wednesday morning. “We are not here by chance. Nobody gets it right all the time in such an unprecedented situation. There are no absolutely correct decisions, but lifting the state of alarm now would be an absolute mistake.”
The government offered concessions to the centre-right Ciudadanos and to the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), to ensure success even though the main opposition group, the Popular Party (PP), finally decided to withdraw its earlier support and abstain in the vote.
Sánchez, who announced this morning that the country will have an official period of mourning for its Covid-19 victims, “when most of the country is in Phase 1 of the deescalation,” sought to underscore his message that the state of alarm is necessary to defeat the coronavirus and that this legal tool is not encroaching on citizens’ freedoms.
“All rights remain intact, not a single liberty has been violated. Just two of them have been limited, freedom of movement and to ensure public health and save lives,” he said. “We need to limit freedom of movement a few weeks more.” Sánchez insisted this is meant to prevent the spread of the virus, not “as a ruse to curtail liberties.”
But his words did not appear to convince PP leader Casado, who announced that because of the government’s most recent concessions, his 88 lawmakers would abstain rather than cast no votes. Casado was highly critical of the government during his speech, telling Sánchez that “the exceptional situation does not allow for a constitutional dictatorship.” The conservative leader accused Sánchez of lying about the causes of the severe impact of the Covid-19 disease in Spain, and of manipulating its economic and social consequences.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal struck a similar note, warning Sánchez that he will have to prepare for law suits because of his mishandling of the crisis, and suggested that the prime minister might soon face a vote of no confidence in Congress.
A majority achieved!
Together with the votes from his coalition partner Unidas Podemos and a few small parties such as the Canaries Coalition, Sánchez managed 178 votes in favour, which was an absolute majority. There were 75 votes against and 97 abstentions.
This compares to the first vote for the introduction of the state of alarm which had 321 votes in favour, and the last one that had 269.
The Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which has six representatives in Congress, announced that it would vote in favour in exchange for a pledge from Sánchez that decisions on de-escalation will be made in partnership with regional authorities, not decreed from Madrid.
The Socialist leader also clinched a deal with Ciudadanos leader Inés Arrimadas that included political and economic concessions, including weekly meetings to discuss de-escalation measures, and negotiating financial aid for self-employed workers once the state of alarm is over. Ciudadanos holds 10 seats in Congress.
Alarm or chaos!
In a country that has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus crisis, with 25,857 officially recognized deaths as of Wednesday, the government had been framing the situation as a choice between “state of alarm or chaos.”
“The only tool to limit mobility and fight against Covid-19 is the extension of the state of alarm,” insisted Sánchez in the Senate on Tuesday.
Spain’s system of two-week periods differs from the methods used by other European countries to implement their own emergency legislation. Italy decreed a state of emergency on January 31st for a six-month period, and France introduced it on March 23rd for the space of two months.