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Sanchez pledges to resolve Catalan dispute as he seeks backing as PM

Spain has been in political gridlock without a proper government for most of last year after two inconclusive elections

Reuters | Jesús Aguado Jessica Jones 

Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez
Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reacts as he attends the first session of the Parliament following a general election in Madrid. Photo: Reuters

Spain’s acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez, seeking parliament’s backing to form a government, set out his priorities on Saturday and tried to lower temperatures in the bitter debate over Catalonia by calling for dialogue.

Spain has been in political gridlock without a proper government for most of last year after two inconclusive elections.

“Spain is not going to break, the Constitution is not going to break. What is going to break is the blockade of a progressive government democratically elected by the Spanish people,” Sanchez told deputies in opening remarks as he kicked off several days of debates and voting.

Earlier this week, the Socialist Party leader Sanchez and Pablo Iglesias, the head of the far-left party Unidas Podemos, restated their intention to form the first coalition government in Spain’s recent history.

Since the two parties together fall short of a majority with 155 seats in a 350-member parliament, victory for Sanchez hinges on the votes of small regional parties.

Catalonia’s largest separatist party, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), agreed to abstain in the second and decisive vote on Tuesday after Sanchez agreed to hold a dialogue over the region’s future and submit its conclusions to Catalan voters.

But a last-minute decision by Spain’s electoral board to block ERC’s jailed leader Oriol Junqueras from becoming a member of the European Parliament has called the party’s support into question. The board also decided to strip the head of Catalonia’s regional government Quim Torra - an ERC ally - of his position as a regional lawmaker.

Teodoro Garcia Egea, a senior politician from the conservative People’s Party, who has refused to back the coalition agreement between the Socialists and Podemos, accused Sanchez of hiding a pact with the separatists from Spaniards.

Sanchez said he wanted to resume dialogue rather than hammer out the dispute through Spain’s courts, but said he would address the issues within Spain’s constitutional framework.

Spain’s constitution prohibits regions from breaking away and the Catalan independence drive, including a banned referendum in 2017, has caused the country’s worst political crisis in decades.

Among his priorities, Sanchez mentioned increases in corporate tax, more worker-friendly labor legislation, fighting climate change and gender equality. He pledged to lift the minimum wage to 60 percent of average national wages by the end of the government’s four-year term.

Sanchez is not expected to win the first confidence vote on Sunday, in which he would require an absolute majority of 176 members among all 350 lawmakers in the Spanish parliament. But he aims to win a second vote on Tuesday which would only require him to obtain more votes in favor than against.

First Published: Sat, January 04 2020. 21:49 IST