Sat, Feb 16, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Spanish leader calls for early elections

‘MOVING FORWARD’:Pedro Sanchez said Spain needs to keep advancing, echoing his treasury secretary’s comments that the ‘right wing’ was hindering social progress

AFP, MADRID

Spain’s prime minister yesterday called an early general election, the third in less than four years, after his draft budget was rejected in the legislature over the Catalan secession crisis.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez took power just over eight months ago after he ousted his conservative rival in a dramatic parliamentary no-confidence vote.

At the head of a fragile minority government, the 46-year-old has had to rely on the support of unlikely bedfellows in the legislature, including the far-left Podemos party, Basque nationalist lawmakers and — crucially — 17 Catalan separatist lawmakers.

On Wednesday, these groups joined right-wing lawmakers in rejecting his budget.

They withdrew their backing in protest at separatist leaders being put on trial for their role in a 2017 attempt to break Catalonia from Spain.

“Between doing nothing and continuing without the budget, and calling on Spaniards to have their say, I choose the second. Spain needs to keep advancing, progressing with tolerance, respect, moderation and common sense,” Sanchez said in a televised address following a Cabinet meeting yesterday.

“I have proposed to dissolve parliament and call elections for April 28th,” he said.

Sanchez’s socialists have already adopted a campaign-like tone, accusing Catalan separatists and conservatives of blocking a budget that included many social spending measures.

“The right wing in this country is trying to put a brake on the social progress of this budget and this government,” Spanish Minister of the Treasury Maria Jesus Montero said after the budget rejection. “It’s trying to stop this country from moving forward.”

The government has also given the media a document promoting its short track record: from a rise in the minimum wage and restoring universal healthcare to financing measures against gender-based violence.

“It’s the end of an atypical, turbulent term,” Complutense University of Madrid politics professor Paloma Roman said.

Sanchez has been savaged by the conservative Popular Party, the center-right Ciudadanos party and, more recently, the small, far-right party Vox.

On Sunday last week, they called a large protest in Madrid to ask for early elections.

One of their biggest bugbears has been the socialist government’s negotiations with Catalonia’s separatist executive as Madrid tries to ease tensions with the northeastern region.

While Madrid has said that it initiated talks to try and find a way out of an ongoing crisis, the opposition has accused it of yielding to separatist demands merely to stay in power.

Several opinion polls have shown that Sanchez’s Socialist party would win elections, but would likely be unable to form a majority in the legislature, even with Podemos.

Polls have shown that the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox — which has surged recently thanks to its hard line against Catalan separatism — could be able to form a majority.

That would lead to a coalition government with the Popular Party and Ciudadanos, formed with the support of Vox — which is what happened in the southern region of Andalusia after local polls in December last year.

“Tensions between the central government and Catalonia are likely to increase in this scenario,” ING economist for Spain and Portugal Steven Trypsteen said.

The other scenario could be that the right-wing bloc does not get enough lawmakers to form a majority, which could result in “political gridlock,” he said.

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