A parliamentary no-confidence motion brought by the far right against Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez suffered an overwhelming defeat while underlining deep divisions in the country’s politics.
Only 53 members of the 350-seat congress voted on Wednesday in favour of the motion, which was brought by the far-right Vox party and led by 89-year-old independent Ramón Tamames.
This was the sixth no-confidence initiative brought against a government in Spain’s modern era. It was also the second one brought by Vox against Mr Sánchez’s left-wing coalition during this legislature, which was why the party had to seek an outside candidate to front it.
Mr Sánchez described it as “a bizarre attempt to bring our country to a halt and bring down a legitimate government”.
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Much of the build-up to the two-day debate was focused on Mr Tamames, an esteemed economist and former member of the Communist Party, who would have become prime minister if the motion had been successful. He accepted Vox’s invitation despite sharing little ideological ground with the party.
One area in which Mr Tamames and Vox did coincide was on the issue of historical memory. The government has pushed through several legislative initiatives which seek to deal with the legacy of the 1936-1939 civil war and the ensuing dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Mr Tamames accused the prime minister of dividing society.
“We need to look at the idea of those who hand out titles saying ‘left’ or ‘right’, ‘fascists’ or ‘democrats’,” he said. “We are bored, exhausted with the return of the terminology of 1936.”
He also attacked the government for making changes to the criminal code which were seen to benefit Catalan independence leaders who had faced legal action.
With only Vox and one independent MP voting in favour of the motion, however, the debate was seen as a boost for the government. After months of public disputes between the coalition partners, the Socialists and Unidas Podemos, this was an opportunity for them to unite in advance of May’s local elections and a general election expected in December.
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Mr Sánchez and the labour minister, Yolanda Díaz of Unidas Podemos, used the debate to detail the government’s achievements, including raising the minimum wage and introducing a labour reform.
Cuca Gamarra, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), upbraided Vox for handing “an inexplicable gift to the government, which can show off a unity that it does not have”.
The vote was uncomfortable for the main opposition PP, whose leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, has struggled to occupy the political centre ground since he was appointed a year ago. With the party determined to disprove the left’s accusations that it is ideologically close to the far right and plans to form a coalition with Vox after the next election, it abstained.
“[Núñez] Feijóo has remained silent because he needs Vox in order to govern,” Mr Sánchez said of the PP leader, who does not hold a seat in congress and chose not to attend the debate.
The only successful no-confidence motion Spain has seen since the return to democracy was in 2018, when Mr Sánchez became prime minister after winning a vote against the corruption-plagued PP.