Spain’s right-wing parties set for political and legal battle against pardoning jailed Catalan leaders

Pedro Sánchez’s government faces growing pressure from opposition over possible release of pro-independence politicians

Pablo Casado, leader of the People's Party, at the Spanish congress' plenary session on Wednesday (photo courtesy of the Spanish congress)
Pablo Casado, leader of the People's Party, at the Spanish congress' plenary session on Wednesday (photo courtesy of the Spanish congress) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

May 28, 2021 11:41 AM

As the Spanish government continues to consider granting pardons to Catalonia’s jailed pro-independence leaders, right-wing opposition parties prepare for a legal and political battle to prevent the measure and even overpower the executive.

The Spanish congress’ plenary session on Wednesday offered a hint of what is to come if president Pedro Sánchez nullifies the sedition convictions and sets the imprisoned politicians and activists free.

"[Mr Sánchez], you prefer to put Spain’s constitutional order at risk in exchange for remaining in power," said Pablo Casado, leader of the main opposition group in the chamber, the conservative People’s Party.

With Sánchez first coming into power in Madrid with the support from pro-independence parties, and being reelected thanks to an abstention from Catalonia’s ruling Esquerra Republicana party, right-wing groups have often accused them of having "secret dealings," presenting pardons as a possible pay off for helping appoint Sánchez president.

Sánchez has repeatedly denied such accusations, saying that his government would make the same decision even if they had an absolute majority of 300 MPs and did not rely on the support coming from Catalan independence parties.

"There’s a time for punishment and a time for conchord," Sánchez told Casado, regretting the fact that the conservative leader fails to support "the state", especially since the Socialist party backed PP during the 2017 independence push, when a police operation to stop an unauthorized referendum left hundreds of voters injured.

While PP’s political relevance in Catalonia is limited (in the last election it remained the smallest party in parliament), the conservative party has often put Catalonia at the center of the political debate across Spain, famously challenging a new Statute of Autonomy backed by most Catalans, which led to a Constitutional Court ruling that kickstarted the push for independence.

People’s Party officials announced on Thursday that the group would file motions in all town councils in Spain to symbolically reject the jailed leaders’ pardons, as a means to force local officials of Sánchez’s Socialist party to take sides on the issue and risk political backlash from their electorate.

Socialists rebelling against pardons

Not only is Sánchez under pressure from opposition groups, but also from his own party.

The leaders of two Spanish regions ruled by the Socialists have recently warned the party’s leader against the possibility of letting pro-independence politicians walk free.

"The solution can only come when pro-independence [parties] renounce their goals," said Emiliano García-Page, president of Castilla La Mancha, telling Sánchez he still "has time" to change his mind.

"Obviously, you should not pardon people who don’t want to get pardoned, and who don’t respect or believe in law," said the president of Extremadura, Guillermo Fernández Vara.

Guillermo-Fernández Vara, que aquest dimecres va apuntar en un tuit que "és evident que no s'ha d'indultar qui no ho vol ser perquè no respecta ni creu en les lleis".

Criticism also came from one of Sánchez’s predecessors, the former Socialist leader Felipe González, who ruled Spain from 1982 to 1996, and said he would not grant pardons under the current circumstances. 

Far-right to press criminal charges against Sánchez

The leader of far-right VOX in Catalonia, Ignacio Garriga, announced on Thursday that the party would press criminal charges against Sánchez and his ministers if they end up authorizing the pardons, and say the measure would pose "a direct attack to millions of Catalans."  

Ciutadans, a unionist party facing a deep political crisis after losing its preeminent position as anti-independence champions, has called a march for June 11 to "defend coexistence among Spaniards."  

"They’re not political prisoners, they’re privileged politicians receiving a VIP-like treatment in prison who will now leave jail because they’re the colleagues of Spain’s president and are helping him to remain in office," said Ciutadans leader, Carlos Carrizosa.