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Socialist leader pledges dialogue between Spain and Catalonia

Pedro Sánchez appeals to pro-independence parties in his attempt to oust president Mariano Rajoy

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31 May 2018 12:11 PM

by

ACN | Madrid

Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez promised to open dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan governments if he succeeds in his attempt to oust Mariano Rajoy as president and form an alternative cabinet. The votes of pro-independence parties in the Spanish parliament will be crucial in determining whether Sánchez’s motion of no confidence succeeds or not.

The Socialists are seeking to force the president out after Rajoy's People's Party was convicted in the so-called Gürtel case, a major corruption scandal involving illegal party financing. 

Despite his call for dialogue, Sánchez tiptoed around the political situation in Catalonia and spent less than a minute of his parliamentary speech on Thursday addressing the independence bid. These are muddy waters for him: Sánchez backed Rajoy when the Spanish government imposed direct rule following a declaration of independence last October, and he has been a blatant detractor of Catalan president Quim Torra, who he has dismissed as a “racist” and “supremacist.”

In his response to Sánchez's speech, Rajoy accused him of being “indifferent” to the situation in Catalonia and aligning himself with pro-independence parties. “We’re far from recovering normality, but that doesn’t stop you,” he said.

  • “We’re far from recovering normality [in Catalonia], but that doesn’t stop you"

    Mariano Rajoy · Spanish president

In turn, the Socialist leader reminded Rajoy that his party has also reached agreements with pro-independence parties both in Catalonia and Spain. He accused Rajoy of being partly responsible for the political crisis in Catalonia, dismissing his policies as "a suicidal strategy" seeking "territorial confrontation."

176 votes needed

For the motion to get through, at least 176 out of 350 MPs must vote in favor. So far, the left-wing Unidos Podemos party (67) and its ally in Valencia, Compromís (4), have confirmed they will back the motion. The Catalan branch of Podemos, Catalunya en Comú, will confirm its final position in an internal vote on Thursday. Combined with the Socialists, these parties account for 155 lawmakers.

The fate of the Spanish government will ultimately depend on the 17 votes of the Catalan pro-independence parties, PDeCAT and ERC, as well as the five MPs of the Basque Nationalists. None of them have announced a final position yet. While ERC has seemed willing to back the motion from the beginning, the PDeCAT and Basque EAJ-PNV parties have been more ambiguous.

Sánchez maintains Rajoy's budget

Basque nationalists voted for the budget put forward by the Spanish government in a crucial parliamentary debate last week. In order to secure EAJ-PNV’s support, the budget included €570 million in public spending for the Basque country. Although the Socialists voted against Rajoy’s budget, Sánchez promised to maintain it as the most responsible course of action, in what was seen as a wink to Basque nationalists.

Whether Rajoy is to be ousted or not could become known as soon as Thursday evening, should the Catalan and Basque parties announce their final decision on how to vote after hearing Sánchez’s speech in Parliament. MPs will meet again on Friday to vote on the motion.

Sánchez urged Rajoy to resign in order to avoid being ousted by the chamber. “Are you ready to step down, Mr Rajoy? Step down, Mr Rajoy. This way you’d leave Spain’s presidency on your own decision,” said Sánchez.

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  • Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez in parliament (by Javier Barbancho)

  • Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez in parliament (by Javier Barbancho)