Spain’s Opposition Leader Feijoo Gets Last Shot to Be PM: What to Watch

After July’s inconclusive elections, Spain’s center-right opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo is making a final attempt to stretch the parliamentary math in his favor.

(Bloomberg) — After July’s inconclusive elections, Spain’s center-right opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo is making a final attempt to stretch the parliamentary math in his favor. 

If the People’s Party leader fails to get fellow lawmakers’ backing after appearing Tuesday to set out his platform, he hands his opponent Pedro Sanchez a clear shot at forming a government. 

Feijoo faces steep odds. Though he is fewer seats short of a parliamentary majority than Sanchez, the distance is likely to remain insurmountable. Even his own side expect him to fall short.

Here are the main things to watch this week:

Confidence Votes

As the leader of the largest party, custom dictates that Feijoo gets to pitch fellow parliamentarians first. If he fails to convince them the prerogative passes to Sanchez, who then has two months for his own attempt.

If neither candidate can cobble together a government, new elections will be called for early January.

Members of parliament get to determine the outcome for Feijoo in Wednesday’s investiture vote, at which victory requires an absolute majority of 176. If the People’s Party leader stumbles, a repeat is held 48 hours down the line, and in that case the opposition leader would simply require more votes in his favor than against.

Numerical Edge

Feijoo is expected to fail narrowly to clear both hurdles. 

Although Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists won fewer votes than the People’s Party at July’s elections, Sanchez’s readiness to bargain with Catalan separatists may grant him a numerical edge. Together with coalition partners, his left-of-center bloc needs five further seats to secure a parliamentary majority. 

Sanchez, the acting prime minister, has been tight-lipped about his policy platform out of a professed respect for procedure, but is expected to grant concessions to secessionist party Junts per Catalunya whose seven seats could take him over the line. 

Amnesty Demands 

The pro-independence party has demanded a sweeping amnesty for hundreds of Catalan politicians and officials involved in 2017’s failed attempt at secession. The territorial conflict is a source of huge controversy in Spain and previous Socialist leaders, like the former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, have publicly opposed it. 

The Catalan separatists are due to take the stage in Tuesday’s debate to signal the price of their support for either Feijoo or Sanchez. The conservative leader has ruled out an amnesty to benefit Junts’ self-exiled leader Carles Puigdemont, who’s sought by the law for his role in 2017’s unilateral declaration of independence. 

The Socialists will also hint at the party’s red lines in talks with Junts, perhaps calling on the separatists to shelve plans for any new independence referendum. It is not clear whether Sanchez himself will speak during the debate, whose rules grant Feijoo unlimited time to make his case in front of the 350-member chamber. 

Lawmakers from other separatist parties such as Catalonia’s Esquerra Republicana and the Basque National Party may also outline the concessions they seek.

Next Steps

If Feijoo loses both the Sept. 27 and 29 votes, that initiates a two-month period in which Sanchez has a chance to secure a majority. During that time the acting prime minister will likely be invited for consultations by King Felipe VI to set the date for a new investiture vote. 

Sanchez’s success will hinge on Junts, which is expected to drive a hard bargain in negotiations. Sanchez says he wants a political solution to the conflict, but in recent public appearances has stopped short of signaling support for the wide-ranging pardon Junts demands. Ahead of July’s inconclusive general election the Socialist leader had ruled out an amnesty, saying their leader Puigdemont should face justice. 

Junts has called for a legal amnesty to be drafted as one precondition for its support for Sanchez. But the Socialists and their coalition partners have said it would be almost impossible to have a legal reprieve ready to go before their own investiture vote — if one happens. 

Opposition Strength

Even if Sanchez wins a new term, Feijoo will do all in his power to scuttle the legislative agenda. 

His People’s Party, along with far-right coalition partners Vox, would attempt to strike down any amnesty law and future budgets to debilitate a Sanchez administration.

A PP rally against a potential amnesty attracted more than 40,000 people on Sunday, reaffirming Feijoo’s leadership over the right-wing voters who had been expected to triumph back in July. In his speech Tuesday, Feijo is expected to weigh hard against legal reprieve for the separatists, raising pressure on Sanchez who has been attacked on this issue even by some former members of his own party.  

Feijoo has a absolute majority in the senate, and although the upper chamber is not able unilaterally to block bills it can help delay key legislation and reforms. 

Uneasy Alliance

While the odds are in favor of a new term for Sanchez, his likely reliance on Junts and other separatist parties facing regional elections over the next two years will further complicate the approval of budgets and other legislation. 

While the Socialists are expected to keep their own legislative agenda relatively sparse, bills to secure European Recovery Funds will still need approval from parliament in coming months. That’s why Sanchez is seeking a stability pact with Junts whose terms would provide for their backing key items. 

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