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Spain’s Sánchez waits for Puigdemont

Spain’s Sánchez waits for Puigdemont

by host

MADRID — Spain’s caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is on the verge of locking in the votes he needs to stay in power: All that stands in his way is one stubborn separatist leader determined to milk the moment for all its worth.

For the past week former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, who heads the Junts party, has been finalizing negotiations with Sánchez’s Socialist Party.

Last July’s national elections resulted in a hung parliament in which neither the left-wing nor right-wing political blocs gained enough seats to control the 350-seat chamber, and Puigdemont’s separatist lawmakers are set to determine whether Sánchez remains in power or Spain holds fresh elections.

The talks appeared to be going well last week, so much so that Socialist lawmakers told the press that a deal was “imminent,” especially after they sealed a pact with Catalonia’s other separatist party, the Republican Left of Catalonia. That group agreed to back Sánchez in exchange for the cancellation of €15 billion in regional debt and the control of the Catalan railway network.

But Puigdemont appears determined to make Sánchez sweat for a bit longer before handing over his votes. Despite repeated meetings with the Spanish Socialists’ organizational head, Santos Cerdán, and what is rumored to be a definitive agreement on a blanket amnesty for everyone involved in the failed 2017 Catalan independence referendum, a deal remains elusive.

Junts’ general secretary, Jordi Turull, last week told party members that “hours and days of great pressure are coming” and implied that the main obstacle was the scope of the amnesty. Turull said that “no soldier will be left behind,” and that the party would not agree to “an amnesty for VIPs” that doesn’t account for people like the supporters arrested for using public cash to fund Puigdemont’s exile in Belgium.

In Madrid, a Socialist lawmaker who requested anonymity given the delicacy of the ongoing negotiations described the state of play as “a melodrama.”

“This is Puigdemont demanding his moment on his own in the spotlight,” the lawmaker said. “He’s playing to his home audience, to make the people in Catalonia believe that it’s him — not the Republican Left of Catalonia or anyone else — that’s singlehandedly gotten Madrid to grant the amnesty.”

The potential amnesty remains controversial in Spain. Throughout the weekend spontaneous protests against the measure took place in cities like Madrid and Burgos, and historic Socialist leaders like former Prime Minister Felipe González have slammed the amnesty. But Sánchez’s militants are backing their leader, and on Saturday nearly 90 percent of Socialist Party members ratified their support for his deals in an inner-party consultation.

According to a 40dB survey published on Monday, the negotiations have had a slightly negative impact on the party’s image, which has lost about half a point of support among prospective voters since July’s elections. Paradoxically, Junts’ hard-line strategy appears to be working: According to the same survey, if Spaniards voted again today the party would likely gain a seat in parliament.

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