Spanish lawmakers on Thursday elected the Socialist party’s candidate for parliamentary speaker following a closely-watched vote that bodes well for Pedro Sanchez’s efforts to return as prime minister.
Thursday’s session was widely seen as a trial run ahead of a crucial investiture vote — which determines who forms the government — after an inconclusive July election.
Francina Armengol, 52, was named parliamentary speaker — the third-highest office in Spain after the king and the prime minister — with an absolute majority of 178 votes in the 350-seat chamber.
Her election was secured following a last-minute deal with the hardline Catalan separatist party JxCat, which has been cast in the role of kingmaker.
During the July polls, neither the left nor the right won enough seats to constitute a working majority of 176 representatives — with each side only able to amass the cross-party support of 171 lawmakers.
That has put JxCat in an influential position, with the votes cast by its seven lawmakers on Thursday proving decisive to secure Armengol’s election.
And Sanchez is hoping he will be able to do the same in an investiture vote, although experts say those negotiations will be far more complicated.
Although winning the speaker vote was “a good sign” for Sanchez, it “by no means guarantees his appointment for another term, given substantial obstacles to meeting JxCat’s demands,” said Federico Santi, an analyst at Eurasia Group in London.
The vote also highlighted the problems facing Alberto Nunez-Feijoo whose right-wing Popular Party (PP) won the election but with less support than expected, meaning he will need the far-right Vox to form a government.
But rather than throwing their support behind Cuca Gamarra, the PP’s candidate in Thursday’s vote, Vox’s 33 MPs voted for their own candidate, leaving Gamarra floundering.
After choosing a speaker, parliament’s first job will be to choose a prime minister, with an investiture vote due later this month or in early September.
– ‘Progress and peaceful coexistence’ –
During her first speech as speaker, Armengol announced that the Catalan, Basque and Galician — which are official languages in Spain — could now be used in debates in the national parliament.
Congratulating Armengol, Sanchez said “we are already working for a new legislature that is about progress and peaceful coexistence.”
JxCat said allowing the use of Catalan in the assembly was one of the four demands which the Socialists and their radical leftist ally Sumar had agreed to in exchange for its support.
The party insisted the deal was “not linked to the investiture vote”.
It also involved the creation of two inquiry panels into the 2017 Barcelona terror attacks and the use of Pegasus software to spy on Catalan separatists.
But for an investiture vote, the bar has been set much higher.
The separatists want an amnesty for anyone pursued by the Spanish justice system over their failed 2017 independence bid and a referendum on self-determination, with JxCat leader Carles Puigdemont demanding solid guarantees before offering support to Spain’s next government.
“We have no confidence in Spanish political parties,” he wrote Wednesday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
– Nod to separatists –
Puigdemont himself is one of those wanted by the Spanish justice system for his role in the botched independence bid of 2017.
Now 60, he headed the regional government of Catalonia when it staged a referendum banned by Madrid on October 1, 2017, which was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence.
He fled Spain shortly after to avoid prosecution and currently lives in Belgium from where he leads JxCat.
Sanchez’s choice of Armengol was widely seen as a nod to the separatists: between 2015-2023, she was regional leader of the Balearic Islands, where Catalan is widely spoken.
And on Wednesday he promised to promote the use of Catalan, Basque and Galician within Europe — a long-running demand of nationalist parties.