Interim centre-left prime minister lost a majority vote on Sunday but now simply needs to get more yes votes than no to secure his preferred government.
Spain’s Pedro Sanchez looks set to become the country’s prime minister following a tentative deal between the acting prime minister’s Socialist party (PSOE) and the most powerful Catalan separatist party, in a blow the country’s rising far-right.
The centre-left leader is likely to lead despite losing a vote to form government on Sunday.
Sanchez secured 166 votes to 165 against with 18 abstentions, falling short of a majority.
He now needs to simply secure more Yes votes than No in a vote on Tuesday, which he will likely be able to secure with Catalan nationalists abstaining.
The Catalan Republican Left and PSOE reached a tentative deal on December 30 following lengthy negotiations, according to Spanish media. ERC had requested Sanchez change his tone on the secessionist crisis in Catalonia and create a committee separate from parliament, among other points, in exchange for an abstention from ERC’s 13 seats.
Sanchez adopted a tougher tone on Catalonia ahead of November polls – the second this year – in a bid to court undecided voters, many of whom gravitated towards harsher rhetoric on the separatist region put forth by the country’s right-wing bloc.
PSOE won the election with 120 seat of 350 seats in the national congress, three less than the results of April elections.
Since then, Sanchez has referred to the situation in Catalonia as a “political crisis”, one of ERC’s public demands. With ERC’s abstention, Sanchez is all but guaranteed to be confirmed as prime minister.
The news will be welcomed by many Spaniards who are tired of the country’s years-long caretaker government.
Isabel Contreras, a 36-year-old bank teller in Madrid, told TRT World that she was ready for the instability to end.
“Spain is accustomed to political instability, but this is too long” Contreras said at a café in Madrid. “The longer we have instability, the more unexpected, unfortunate things can happen.”
What’s next for the far-right?
Spain has been with a caretaker government for over a year and has seen four elections in as many years. Its political foundation was shaken following repeat polls in November. The far-right Vox party won 52 seats, a marked increase from the 24 seats they won in the April election.
Spain was controlled by a far-right dictatorship from 1939 to 1975, which many thought inoculated the country against the far-right populist wave in Europe.
Contreras expressed surprise that a far-right party could receive such support: “I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime”.
Vox supports many far-right policies, including anti-Islam rhetoric. The party produced a video showing Muslims in Southern Spain converting cathedrals to mosques and enforcing strict dress codes. Party officials have been investigated for hate speech for saying there is an “Islamist invasion” of Spain.
While the party has expressed anti-Muslim rhetoric, many point to the Catalan crisis, which began in earnest in October 2017, as the driving force behind Vox’s success.
The previous election saw Spain’s mainstream, centre-right People’s Party (PP) join with Vox and Citizens, another right-wing party that describes itself as “pro-market”, to challenge PSOE and their left-wing ally, Podemos.
Vox, PP and Citizens won a combined total of 151 seats, though Citizens lost 47 seats that observers say helped account for the sharp increases for both Vox and PP.
Still, the right-wing bloc saw an overall increase of 4 seats over the April election, with Vox showing the biggest pickup of any party.
Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, turned the Catalan crisis into a rallying cry for Spaniards who do not want to see the region secede. Abascal has proposed banning separatist parties and taking direct control of Catalonia to stop it from seceding.
Vox did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Catalan political future
With PSOE poised to lead Spain with Podemos, Catalonia’s conflict with Madrid could see a political resolution.
The ERC, a centre-left separatist party, has seen steady support since the 2017 independence drive. ERC’s leader, Oriol Junqueras, has been in prison since late 2017. Spain’s High Court sentenced Junqueras to 13 years in prison in October for his role in the region’s 2017 independence drive. Another eight Catalan
But Junqueras was elected to the European Parliament (EP) in May elections, giving him diplomatic immunity since then, according to a December's decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The ECJ said in a release delivered to TRT World that Junqueras enjoyed “immunities guaranteed by Article 9” of the EU protocol that governs the procedures of the EP from the time results were declared.
Junqueras’s release is widely viewed as another condition for ERC’s abstention in Sanchez’s investiture vote. Spain’s state attorney called for Junqueras to be released so he can be sworn in as a member of the EP, following the ECJ’s ruling, though the attorney also argued for his bar on holding public office oet be enforced.
Abascal said in a tweet that Sanchez “humiliated the state attorney, converted into the ERC’s attorney, giving the possibility of Junqueras fleeing and taking refuge with the other escapees in Europe”.
Spain’s Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in the coming days. Its decision could have broader a broader impact. Catalonia’s former regional President Carles Puigdemont who fled spain for Brussels in 2017 and has not been tried, was also elected to the EP, which theoretically grants him the same immunity.
ERC’s national coordinator Pere Aragones welcomed the ECJ’s ruling, saying "justice comes, it takes time but it comes, and it comes from Europe".
The investiture debate will take place on January 4, 5, and 7.