Pedro Sánchez set to retain power in Spain after amnesty deal with Catalan separatists

Pedro Sánchez set to retain power in Spain after amnesty deal with Catalan separatists

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Spain’s ruling Socialist party has sealed a contentious amnesty deal with Catalan separatists that will pave the way for caretaker prime minister Pedro Sánchez to secure another term in office.

The deal was unveiled on Thursday morning by the Socialists and the hardline separatists of Together for Catalonia. The announcement was made in Brussels, where the Catalan party’s chief Carles Puigdemont is a fugitive from Spanish justice and probable amnesty beneficiary.

The pact is already sparking outrage on the right over the move to absolve hundreds of people of wrongdoing over a failed and unlawful Catalan bid for independence, which caused Spain’s worst political crisis in decades six years ago.

Spanish lawmakers must now approve an amnesty law that would pave the way for the investiture of Sánchez by November 27. Following an inconclusive July general election, he needs the support of smaller parties in parliament to reach a 176-seat majority.

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

The prospect of a deal has triggered several nights of protests outside the Socialist party headquarters in Madrid, where supporters of the opposition Popular party (PP) and the hard-right Vox group have mixed with neo-Nazis blamed for violent clashes with police.

The accord between the Socialists and Together, known as Junts in Catalan, says it will “open a new stage and contribute to resolving the historic conflict over Catalonia’s political future”.

“The will and the opportunity is real,” said Santos Cerdán, a top Socialist official. He signed the accord with Together secretary-general Jordi Turull, who served more than three years in prison over the independence push before being pardoned by Sánchez in 2021.

But the pact also acknowledges profound differences between the parties. It says Together is committed to pursuing another referendum on independence, while the Socialists firmly deny the legality of the 2017 vote and want the region to return to a 2006 autonomy statute that was struck down by the courts.

An amnesty law will end the prosecution, prison terms or other penalties facing hundreds of independence supporters who backed the Catalan bid to break away from Spain.

Òmnium Cultural, a pro-independence campaign group, estimates that as many as 1,400 people could be affected, among them those convicted for crimes ranging from public order offences to the misuse of public funds.

Puigdemont, a divisive figure in Spain, fled the country as Catalonia’s regional president in 2017 to escape detention after he led the referendum and a futile declaration of independence that followed.

Sánchez, whose Socialists fell far short of a parliamentary majority in the July election, is being accused by conservatives of forming a “Frankenstein 2.0” government — a nod to the expanded array of small parties whose votes he has cobbled together to retain power.

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, a leading PP figure and head of the Madrid region, said the pact was “bringing in a dictatorship through the back door”. Cuca Gamarra, PP secretary-general, called it “a shameful and humiliating agreement”.

Analysts said the new government’s fragile dependence on Puigdemont’s party would mean instability, difficulty passing legislation and the possibility it might not survive its full four-year term.

Sánchez’s second term will follow five years in which he led the country through a traumatic pandemic, claimed credit for the relatively strong recent performance of its economy and sought to boost Spain’s presence on the international stage.

An astute tactician, he came to power by ejecting his PP predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a vote of no confidence in 2018 then emerged victorious from a general election the following year.

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