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Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, is set to secure a second term on Thursday as his divisive amnesty deal with Catalan separatists draws the fiercest criticism he has faced since taking power in 2018.
A majority of lawmakers are expected to vote for Sánchez, including separatists who demanded an amnesty for the leaders and backers of an unlawful Catalan bid for independence in return for their support.
Confronted by street protests, a conservative backlash and opposition from businesses, judges and traditionalists in his own Socialist party, Sánchez, 51, told parliament on Wednesday that he was “making a virtue out of necessity”.
Acknowledging the uproar, he said: “I am very aware of this and I want to say to all of [the critics] that I respect their opinions and their emotions enormously. But the circumstances are what they are.” Rightwing lawmakers shouted “shameless” and “liar” as he spoke.
The new government’s origins mean it is likely to be unstable, constrained and may not survive its full four-year term, analysts said. The two Catalan separatist parties are not part of Sánchez’s coalition, but he will need their votes every time he wants to pass a budget or bill.
Police have deployed 1,600 officers and barricaded the parliament to protect it from protests as tensions run high during the two-day investiture proceedings for Sánchez. After the first day on Wednesday, anti-amnesty demonstrators gathered for a 12th consecutive night outside Socialist headquarters.
The amnesty will end criminal cases against several hundred pro-independence leaders and supporters of Catalonia’s attempt in 2017 to break away from Spain. Their charges range from sedition and public order offences to the misuse of public funds.
Sánchez, who vowed to lead a new progressive government, said pardoning them would defuse a long-running conflict over Catalonia’s status and produce a more united Spain through “the path of dialogue, understanding and forgiveness”.
But the most hardline of the Catalan parties, Together for Catalonia, which on Thursday said it would vote for Sánchez, has signalled that their support going forward is not guaranteed if he starts rowing back on promises made beyond amnesty.
Míriam Nogueras, Together’s leader in parliament, took umbrage at Sánchez’s speech and said “it was not clear” whether he was ready to fulfil all of terms of the deal struck last week, which covered a range of separatist priorities.
“If those changes are not possible, if things do not move forward, we will not support any initiative put forward by any government,” Nogueras said.
The amnesty’s most high-profile beneficiary will be Together’s chief Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid arrest in Spain after orchestrating the 2017 referendum on secession and a futile declaration of independence.
Pablo Simón, a professor of politics at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, said: “The government will get started and I think it can at least get half way through a four-year term. It will pass its first budget, for sure.”
The budget could become easier to negotiate if it coincides early next year with efforts to pass the amnesty law. Thereafter, Simón said, Together “will be very keen that we talk a lot about the territorial issue”, meaning Catalonia’s status and another independence referendum. “And the Socialist party will be very interested in talking about anything else.”
The opposition People’s party (PP), which this week called on the EU to intervene to stop the amnesty plan, repeated its accusations that it would breach the constitution and wreck the principle of equality before the law.
Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, the PP leader, told Sánchez: “You are the problem . . . You and your inability to keep your word, your lack of moral limits, your pathological ambition.”
Before an inconclusive July election, in which the PP won more seats than the Socialists but fell short of a parliamentary majority, Sánchez said he opposed an amnesty.
“Sánchez has not obtained the support of anyone. He has bought it with cheques that we will all pay for,” Feijóo said.
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.
He came to power by ejecting his PP predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote in 2018 and cobbling together an alliance with smaller parties to hold on to power after a general election the following year.