Sanchez expected to take power in Spain with Catalan help

Acting PM needs an absolute majority in the 350-seat parliament to take office at the 1st attempt. (AFP pic)

MADRID: Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has a second term in office within reach after his Socialist party lined up an agreement with the Catalan separatist group Esquerra Republicana, El Pais reported.

The deal would enable Sanchez to win a confidence vote and give Spain a fully functioning executive for the first time since 47-year-old Sanchez dissolved parliament in March for the first of this year’s two general elections.

The agreement still needs to be ratified by Esquerra’s national council, which probably won’t meet until the first days of January, El Pais said, citing people familiar with the negotiations.

Sanchez is aiming to win the backing of lawmakers by Jan 5 but Esquerra’s timeframe may make that difficult, the newspaper added.

Spanish politicians have been struggling to form a stable administration since the Catalan crisis in 2017 when separatist parties including Esquerra attempted to declare independence from Spain following an illegal referendum.

Sanchez’s decision to seek a pact with Esquerra should enable him to break Spain’s political deadlock and form a government but will come at the cost of a further widening of the rift between left and right.

A press officer for the Socialists declined to comment on the El Pais report when contacted by phone on Monday.

While the conservative People’s Party and the far-right group Vox have accused Sanchez of treachery by seeking support from a party that wants to break up Spain, he says the country needs a new government as soon as possible to shore up the economy and deliver the progressive policies he says most Spaniards want.

Sanchez’s plans received a further boost on Monday when Spain’s state lawyers recommended that Esquerra’s leader, Oriol Junqueras, be allowed to carry out his role as a lawmaker in the European Parliament.

Junqueras is serving 13 years in jail for his role in the movement’s attempts to force through a split from Spain two years ago.

He was elected to the European Union’s legislature in May while in prison awaiting trial and the EU’s top court this month said that he should have been allowed to take his seat. Spain’s Supreme Court is expected to rule on how to handle the situation in early January.

Data published on Monday showed the Spanish economy grew 0.4% in the third-quarter, repeating the expansion seen in the previous three months. While still more robust than its EU peers, Spain’s growth will moderate to 1.7% in 2020 from 2% this year, according to Bank of Spain estimates.

In another boost for Sanchez, the Basque nationalist PNV party will, as expected, sign a pact later on Monday pledging the support of its six deputies for Sanchez’s bid to form a government.

Sanchez needs an absolute majority of lawmakers in the 350-seat parliament to take office at the first attempt but a simple majority will suffice at the second attempt, meaning an abstention from the 13 Esquerra deputies could see him through.