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Sánchez’s Pact with Catalan Separatists Weakens Spain’s Democratic Credentials

Updated: May 23

Last week, Spanish president Pedro Sánchez, agreed an amnesty deal with the Catalan separatists and got himself four more years in office. This was met with backlash from the opposition, who called this move 'humiliating'.

Sánchez had called a snap election in July after his party and the coalition suffered defeats in local elections. The socialist party performed better than expected and came second in vote share. At the same time, the conservative People's Party (PP) could not get the numbers needed for a majority in the Spanish lower house. The socialist party (PSOE) won 122 seats out of 350, and its far-left coalition partner, Sumar, obtained 31 votes, earning them 153 votes. In contrast, PP, in coalition with the far-right Vox party, has 169 seats, which is seven seats off a majority in the Congress of Deputies. 

Even though PP won the general election, they did not have enough seats to form a government. And, although PSOE came second, the amnesty deal with the separatists has given Sánchez's party the votes it needs to control the lower house. For Sánchez's second term, he needed the support of regional parties, including two main pro-Catalan independence parties, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) and JuntsCat. This delivered the remaining 14 votes necessary to get a majority in the lower house of parliament.  

The two separatist parties had pledged their support for a PSOE-Sumar government only if amnesty was granted to the hundreds who face legal action over their roles in the unilateral and illegal push for independence in Catalonia in 2017 – including the mastermind of the referendum, Carles Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid arrest. 

As per a BBC report, PP has accused Sánchez of aiding and abetting the Catalonian independence movement by saying that the acting president wrote 'a blank cheque' for 'selling a nation with centuries of history'. But it was not just the opposition that was concerned – judges and prosecutors alike have expressed 'profound concerns' over this agreement. It must be noted, though, that the backlash he is being subjected to is not just from the opposition but also from wider Spanish society, including those in his own party. They argue that granting amnesty to these separatists could tear the country apart. 

While the political horse-trading may have given Sánchez another term in office, the move is dangerous. With protests across the country now spanning 13 days in a row (as of November 16), it is no longer a domestic issue for Spain. U.S. Conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson, who was let go from Fox News earlier this year, was in Madrid attending the demonstration and, according to El País, said: 'Anybody who would violate your Constitution, potentially use physical violence to end democracy is a tyrant, is a dictator. And it's happening in the middle of Europe, so we thought it deserved more coverage than it's getting.'

This gamble has gone too far; Sánchez is embracing those who want to break up the country. According to Reuters, a Metroscopia survey in September showed 70% of Spaniards – including 59% of Socialist supporters - were against an amnesty deal. Furthermore, his own party members are criticising him. Emiliano Garcia-Page, the president of PSOE in La Mancha, said that those who wanted to prevent a right-wing government from acquiring power in Spain were 'handing over control to the pro-independence right.'

According to an analysis by Foreign Policy, the PSOE negotiator behind the deal, Santos Cerdán, called it a 'historic opportunity to resolve a conflict that should only be resolved through politics', adding that it's time to provide a ‘horizon’ for Catalans and the rest of Spaniards ‘in which past difficulties are not an obstacle’. Even if such a statement were to be believed, one cannot ignore the disregard it shows for the people's voice outside of Catalonia.

The signs are all there: members of your party disagree with him; the courts and lawyers disagree with him; and the public at large—through widespread demonstrations—have shown their disagreement with Sánchez, too. The move appears to be one made only to hold on to power. A similar manoeuvre was made in 2021, too, when those who were part of the 2017 referendum were pardoned. Fifty-one percent of PSOE voters opposed the decision. Sánchez's actions represent that of a government whose quest is solely for power. 

Not to mention it could be political suicide, as the Catalonian separatist parties demand who the caretaker president has struck a deal with. They would go on to demand referendums. This is too much to gamble for a third term. And this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the challenges that lie ahead, as he must prepare for the array of problems that will inevitably come out of this uneasy alliance. 

Coalition governments are the norm in Spain, but this kind of political gaming shows that Sánchez’s priority is power, not his citizens. The alliance has brought the country's thriving democratic reputation under scrutiny, and it will continue to do so throughout his premiership.

Image: Kippelboy

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