Feijóo Asked to Form Government, But Chances Are Slim

Most Spanish parties prefer the current prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.

María Dolores Cospedal Alberto Núñez Feijóo
Former Spanish defense minister María Dolores Cospedal confers with then-President Alberto Núñez Feijóo of Galicia during a People’s Party congress in Seville, April 7, 2018 (PP)

King Felipe VI has asked the leader of Spain’s conservative People’s Party, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, to try to form a government.

He is unlikely to succeed.

Feijóo’s party won the election in July with 136 out of 350 seats, but even with the backing of the far-right Vox (Voice), which has 33 seats, and the one deputy of the Navarrese People’s Union, he would fall five votes short of a majority.

Outgoing prime minister, and Socialist Party leader, Pedro Sánchez stands a better chance of cobbling together a majority — but only just.

No election for Christmas

Congress will debate whether to support Feijóo on September 26 and 27. That will start the clock on a two-month deadline, after which Spaniards must return to the polls if no candidate wins a majority. Reelections would follow within 47 days: early January.

The reason Congress is waiting a full month before debating Feijóo’s attempt is that an earlier date would have put reelections around Christmas time in the case of failure.

Feijóo’s best hope

If, as seems almost certain, Feijóo does not get an outright majority of 176 votes on the first ballot, he could call a second vote where a simple majority of more votes in favor than against would suffice.

Feijóo’s hope is that, by then, the separatist Together for Catalonia, which has seven seats, would abstain and the center-right Canarian Coalition, which has one deputy, would join him.

But Sánchez has courted Together, which is still led by former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont from self-imposed exile in Belgium, while the Canarian Coalition’s one deputy, Ana Oramas, has said she will not vote for Feijóo if he forms a coalition with Vox. She could support a minority center-right government that merely has Vox‘ support in Congress.

The center-right Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), which has six seats, refuses even that option. Vox is in favor of defunding the Basque and Catalan regional governments and recentralizing most power in Madrid.

Sánchez also needs Catalans to abstain

The PNV and the left-wing separatist parties of the Basque Country and Catalonia — EH Bildu and the Republican Left — would support Sánchez outright. He can also count on the far-left Sumar (Unite) and the middle-of-the-road Galician Nationalist Bloc, which gives him 171 seats.

Feijóo’s bloc has 171 seats as well.

Sánchez would need either Together to abstain and Oramas to vote for him, or the other way around.

Oramas voted against Sánchez after the last election in 2019. Her party governs Spain’s Atlantic islands with Feijóo’s PP. Switching her vote may be too much to ask, but she hasn’t ruled it out. Oramas told reporters a “first gesture to generating a climate of trust” would be for Sánchez to fully fund the Canary Islands’ budget request.

Catalan parties want amnesty

Sánchez’ Socialist Party and Sumar think they have a better chance with Together. The Catalan party supported the Socialists’ candidate for speaker, Francina Armengol, after Sánchez promised to endeavor to make Catalan, Basque and Galician official languages of the EU.

Both Together and the Republican Left have asked Sánchez to commit to a blanket amnesty for everyone involved in organizing the unsanctioned 2017 Catalan independence referendum. Sánchez pardoned the highest-profile organizers of the vote, which was held in defiance of Spain’s Constitutional Court, in 2021. Among them was the region’s former vice president, and Republican party leader, Oriol Junqueras, who had been sentenced to thirteen years in prison.

Puigdemont escaped prosecution by fleeing to Belgium, where he represents Catalonia in the European Parliament. He, and two former members of his cabinet, are still wanted by Spanish police for their role in the 2017 referendum and subsequent declaration of independence. Hundreds of civil servants, mayors and Catalan police officers are still on trial or have been convicted for abetting the referendum in some way.

Catalans have more demands

Together appears to have withdrawn its earlier demand for a legal referendum on independence in order to back Sánchez. The Socialists point to the Constitutional Court, which has ruled that independence referendums are illegal under the current Constitution. (Sumar would change the Constitution to make such referendums possible.)

Other Catalan demands include the full transfer of autonomies promised in 2006, when Catalonia’s self-government was formalized. In five years, the only power Sánchez has devolved to Catalonia is to award university scholarships.

Together and the Republican Left also want a congressional inquiry into the revelation that 65 Catalans, including the current regional president, Pere Aragonès, had their phones tapped by Spain’s national security agency. The Socialists blocked an investigation in 2022.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *