By Belén Carreño
MADRID (Reuters) -Spanish lawmakers began debating a new term on Wednesday for acting premier Pedro Sanchez, whose offer of an amnesty to Catalan separatists in return for support has roused protests.
Several thousand protesters, many draped in Spanish flags, rallied outside the headquarters of Sanchez’s Socialist Party (PSOE) in Madrid, chanting “No to the coup!” and burning Catalan flags.
Having won the backing of Catalan separatist parties Junts and ERC, and other regional parties, the PSOE says Sanchez has enough support to win a vote scheduled for Thursday.
“There is no prosperity in discord, we have to make a push for coexistence and forgiveness,” Sanchez told lawmakers.
He defended the amnesty bill, which the opposition labelled unconstitutional.
“We are convinced that a united Spain is a better Spain,” he said, causing visible discomfort among some of the Catalan separatists, who still hope for independence for the wealthy region via a referendum.
“If we are here today it is to make things really change. But if there is no progress, we will not approve any initiative presented by your government. It is linked to progress and compliance with agreements,” warned Junts bench leader Miriam Nogueras.
Right-wing opposition lawmakers called out “shameless” and “liar” as Sanchez spoke, prompting the house speaker to intervene.
Alberto Nunez Feijoo, leader of the conservative People’s Party (PP), accused Sanchez of “pathological ambition” and trading an amnesty for personal gain.
“He hasn’t secured the support of anyone, he has bought it signing cheques that we will all pay for,” Feijoo said, telling Sanchez: “History won’t amnesty you, I can assure you.”
The new premiership bid of Sanchez, who has governed since 2018, is expected to garner 179 votes in favour and 171 against in the 350-member assembly.
The amnesty deal kindled a wave of protests across Spain. Authorities said 80,000 people gathered in the capital Madrid on Sunday, while tens of thousands attended demonstrations in Granada and Seville.
In Madrid on Wednesday, protesters held signs with slogans such as “Pedro Judas Traitor” or “RIP Spanish democracy”. A bus with a large image depicting Sanchez as Adolf Hitler on its side, organised by ultra-conservative activist group Hazteoir.org, circulated in the streets nearby.
People’s Party vice secretary Esteban Gonzalez Pons on Tuesday compared the amnesty deal to violations of rule of law by some eastern European countries such as Hungary, and suggested the European Union could intervene.
Spain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an injunction by the far-right party Vox to suspend the Sanchez investiture vote.
After PP leader Feijoo failed in his attempt to become prime minister following an election in July that produced no outright winner, the PSOE spent weeks negotiating support with smaller parties to back Sanchez in the investiture vote and on key pieces of legislation.
The hard-left Sumar party is set to become the junior partner in the next coalition government.
(Reporting by Belen Carreno, Miguel Gutierrez, Emma Pinedo and David Latona; Writing by Charlie Devereux and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Aislinn Laing, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Bernadette Baum)