Spain’s parliament rejects far-right no-confidence bid

Spain's parliament rejected Thursday a no-confidence motion filed by the far-right Vox against the leftwing coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Spain's parliament rejects far-right no-confidence bid
PM Pedro Sanchez (L) and Vox leader Santiago Abascal pictured during parliamentary session. Photos: AFP

After two days of debate the motion was only backed by Vox's 52 lawmakers, with the remaining 298 voting against, including those of the main conservative opposition Popular Party (PP).

PP leader Pablo Casado had announced earlier that his party's 88 lawmakers would vote against the motion, which he dismissed as “pure populism”.   

“We will vote no, because we say no to the divisions that you seek, no to the polarisation that you need,” Casado said during a debate in parliament, distancing himself from Vox leader Santiago Abascal.

The motion had piled pressure on the PP, which had to choose between voting against it to maintain its distance from the far right, or abstaining to keep the peace with Vox's electorate.

Government 'lifesaver'

Founded in 2014 by Abascal, Vox has steadily bled support from the PP, leaving the party in a tricky position of having to choose between a more central position or veering to the right to staunch the flow of voters.

Casado accused Vox — the third-largest force in Spain's parliament — of being the government's “lifesaver”, arguing that the party's hardline position will unite the ruling leftist coalition.

PP leader Pablo Casado speaking during the session on Thursday. Photo: AFP

He called the PP the only “credible alternative” but stressed his “respect” for Vox voters whom he said “do not deserve to be used in a strategy” that makes it less likely that conservative parties will govern.

The situation is complicated for the PP because it governs with the support of Vox in key regions such as Madrid and Andalusia in the south.    

During the first day of debate on Wednesday, Abascal savaged Sanchez over his government's management of the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 34,000 lives and infected just over one million people — the highest number in the European Union.

“Show me one country that has managed this crisis worse (than your government),” he demanded of Sanchez.

This is the fifth no-confidence motion since Spain returned to democracy in 1976.

The last time MPs debated a no-confidence motion was following a huge corruption scandal in June 2018 in a move proposed by the Socialist party which brought down the government of then PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy.   

That no-confidence motion won the backing of the hard-left Podemos party, along with Basque and Catalan separatist factions, allowing Sanchez to take over as head of government.

Since January, Sanchez has been at the head of a leftwing coalition of his Socialists and Podemos, which has a minority of 155 seats in the 350-seat parliament.


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PROFILE: Spain’s Pedro Sánchez -a risk-taker with a flair for political gambles

Spain's Pedro Sánchez, who announced snap elections Monday May 29th after his ruling Socialists were routed in local polls, is a consummate risk-taker who's shown a flair for daring gambles during his rollercoaster political career.

PROFILE: Spain's Pedro Sánchez -a risk-taker with a flair for political gambles

Weakened by five turbulent years in power that covered the Covid pandemic and the economic crisis linked to the Ukraine war, Spain’s 51-year-old prime minister caught everyone off guard by announcing an early general election in late July.

The vote had been widely expected at the year’s end, but after his Socialists and their allies suffered a major blow in Sunday’s local polls, Sánchez took a risky gamble – in what observers said has been a hallmark of his career.

“The alternative was six months of governmental bloodletting,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at Barcelona’s Autonomous University. “He’s decided to gamble it all. It’s typical Pedro Sánchez, it’s just what he does,” he told AFP.

It was, agrees Paloma Román, a political scientist at Madrid’s Complutense University, a “strategic calculation” to hang on for the next two months and improve what he already has. “For the Socialists, it’s the lesser of two evils… If they’d held out (until the year’s end) it would have been so much worse,” she said.

A Madrid-born economist and former basketball player, Sánchez went from being an unknown MP who emerged from obscurity in 2014 to seizing the reins of Spain’s oldest political party.

And he has enjoyed a rollercoaster political career.

Written off, bounces back

A leap-year baby who was born in Madrid on February 29th, 1972, Sánchez grew up in a well-off family, the son of an entrepreneur father and a mother who worked as a civil servant.

He studied economics before getting a Master’s degree in political economy at the Free University of Brussels and a doctorate from a private Spanish university.

Elected to the party leadership in 2014, Sánchez was written off politically after leading the Socialists to their worst-ever electoral defeats in 2015 and 2016.

Pedro Sánchez announced a snap election for July 23rd. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Ejected from the leadership, Sánchez unexpectedly won his job back in a primary in May 2017 after a cross-country campaign in his 2005 Peugeot to rally support.

Within barely a year, he took over as premier in June 2018 after an ambitious gamble that saw him topple conservative Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote.

“He is a politician who often makes these kinds of decisions,” said Bartomeus. “So far it’s mostly worked for him… although things are more complicated now,” he said, noting Sánchez had been weakened by his time in office.

Stubborn and tenacious

Always immaculately suited and booted, this telegenic politician – who likes to go running and looms over his rivals at 1.9 metres (6 foot 2 inches) tall – has made a name for himself as stubborn and tenacious.

Over the past five years, he has had to play a delicate balancing act to stay in power.

In February 2019, the fragile alliance of left-wing factions and pro-independence Basque and Catalan parties that had catapulted him to the premiership cracked, prompting him to call early elections.

Although his Socialists won, they fell short of an absolute majority, and Sánchez was unable to secure support to stay in power so he called a repeat election later that year.

Forced into a marriage of convenience with the hard-left Podemos, despite much gnashing of teeth inside his own party, Sánchez has managed to stay in power despite his coalition holding only a minority in parliament.

He has managed to push through a wide range of reforms clearly rooted in the left and overseen a government with the highest-ever number of women.

The first Spanish premier to speak English fluently since the country returned to democracy in the 1970s, Sánchez is married with two teenage daughters.

In February 2019, he detailed his triumphs in an autobiography called “Resistance Manual”, the first to be published in Spain by a sitting premier.