Left controls Congress ‘Mesa’ for first time in 30 years

PSOE's Meritxell Batet, new President of the 'Mesa Directiva' of Spain's Congress. Photo: Victor J. Blanco (GTRES) / El País
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► PSOE’s Meritxell Batet elected President of nine-member Mesa Directiva
► PSOE & Unidas Podemos control five-seat majority of crucial committee

Left-of-center parties won control of the crucial Mesa Directiva executive committee of Spain’s 350-member Congress Tuesday, when members of the newly installed legislature voted to select Meritxell Batet of the Socialist party (PSOE) to lead the nine-member committee.

In a proportional representation of the outcome of Spain’s 28th April general elections, three members of the  Mesa correspond to the PSOE party of Spanish President Pedro Sánchez and two members to the leftwing Unidas Podemos coalition — marking the first time in three decades that leftwing parties have controlled a majority on Congress crucial governing committee. The conservative Partido Popular (PP) and centre-right Ciudadanos parties, charged by the PSOE and Unidas Podemos with blocking key progressive legislation when they held a combined majority during the last legislature, will now be in the minority with just two seats each on the new Mesa.

Batet’s election came amid a first session of the new Congress full of political theatre, marked by the one-day appearance in Congress by Catalan politicians currently on trial in Madrid on charges of sedition and rebellion related to the October 2017 independence referendum in Catalonia.

Four of the defendants in the trial stood for and were elected to seats in the new Congress, while another was elected to Spain’s Senate. The Supreme Court ruled they could attend the inaugural meetings of the legislative chambers before returning to preventive detention while their trial continues.

As the Catalan pro-independence leaders swore allegiance to the Spanish Constitution they are currently accused of having violated, and as their fellow pro-independence deputies and legislators from other nationalist and regionalist parties across Spain pledged allegiance to the Constitution in their own regional languages, two dozen deputies of the far-right VOX party newly elected to Congress tried to drown them out by noisily banging the wooden seats in their section of the legislature.

Batet’s election in a second round of voting was marked by one particularly crucial element — the Socialist candidate’s bid to preside over the Mesa succeeded without any votes from Catalan pro-independence parties, relying solely on the votes of the PSOE, Unidas Podemos, the Basque nationalist PNV party, Valencia’s Compromís coalition, the Coalición Canaria and Cantabria’s Partido Regionalista Cántabro.

If the same coalition were to hold for the upcoming vote by Congress to elect Spain’s next President, then the PSOE’s Sánchez may be able to return to a second term in office without having to rely on or barter for the votes of the Catalan secessionists.

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