The World Today for November 17, 2023


Pardoning Politics


Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party achieved a political masterstroke to remain in power, but also probably sowed the seeds to reap bitter enmity from his conservative rivals for the rest of his life.

In July, when Spanish voters elected a new parliament, Sánchez looked like he was out. The conservative Popular Party finished first. But the conservatives lacked sufficient votes in parliament to form a government.

Sánchez went to work, assembling a coalition of leftist groups to keep him in the premiership. These left-wing groups agreed to cut working hours without cutting wages, hike the minimum wage, and spend more on public housing, reported Euronews. He still didn’t have enough lawmakers to form a government, however.

Then he took a step that his allies might think makes him a genius – but which his detractors will undoubtedly use to tar his name forever, Politico reported. In return for the support of their allied lawmakers in parliament, Sánchez agreed to pardon Carles Puigdemont and around 1,500 other separatists who organized an independence referendum in Catalonia in 2017, and then attempted to secede the region from the central government in Madrid.

His gambit worked. On Thursday, Spain’s lower house of parliament voted to make Sánchez prime minister for another term, ending more than four months of political deadlock, France 24 reported.

Sánchez had argued for the political pact, saying it would bring an end to the Catalan crisis, La Prensa Latina wrote. Conservatives, however, immediately accused Sánchez of delivering a humiliating defeat for Spain, reported the BBC. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets for weeks to denounce the move, with some demonstrations turning violent. The prime minister was rewarding a movement that tried to split up the country, and still could, they said.

“The pact will open a rancorous and potentially explosive new chapter in Spanish politics,” wrote the Financial Times. “Sánchez says that he is defusing long-running Catalan tensions, but opponents accuse him of political expediency and trashing the rule of law.”

Puigdemont, the former president of the Spanish region of Catalonia, has been living in Belgium as a fugitive from justice for the past six years. He’s now a kingmaker in Spanish politics, explained the Guardian. The question now is whether he will immediately pursue his dreams of Catalan independence, or move slowly and wait for the most propitious time to call for separation.

In the meantime, another development cast a larger shadow over Sánchez’s deal.

On the same day that Sánchez announced the amnesty, Spanish conservative politician Alejandro Vidal-Quadras was shot in the face on a Madrid street. Vidal-Quadras was the conservative Popular Party’s regional leader in Catalonia, reported the Associated Press. Doctors said he would live. The shooter escaped on a motorbike.

Are the controversial political deal and attempted assassination linked? That’s a lingering question. But what is sure: Sánchez may have gotten what he wanted, but governing this diverse country now will be twice as hard.

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