Right splits, Left gets six seats on new Congress ‘Mesa’

PSOE deputies applaud re-election of Meritxell Batet as President of Congress. Photo: Eduardo Parra/Europa Press via El País
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Parties on the progressive left managed to pick up an unprecedented six seats on the nine-member executive Mesa del Congreso of Spain’s 350-member lower parliamentary chamber, the result of a split vote between the conservative Partido Popular and far-right VOX parties that left the right-wing parties with just three seats on the Mesa.

Meritxell Batet of Spain’s Socialist party was re-elected to the Presidency of the Mesa in a second-round ballot, with the PSOE also winning the first Vice-Presidency; the PP and VOX picked up the second and third Vice-Presidencies.

The election of a far-right party to the Mesa Directiva is unprecedented in Spain and occurred despite an apparent effort by the Socialists and the farther-left Unidas Podemos coalition to vote tactically to erect a so-called cordón sanitario (literally, ‘quarantine’) to block the far-right from positions of influence in government, as has been done in France and Germany.

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But in voting for the lower-tier of Secretary positions on the Mesa, VOX’s refusal to engage with the PP in tactical voting that would have given a Secretary seat on the Mesa to centre-right Ciudadanos ultimately split the right-wing vote and allowed Unidas Podemos to win two of the four Secretary posts.

The Presidency of the Mesa del Congreso is significant, in that the President orders the agenda for all debates and voting in plenary sessions of Congress and is responsible for maintaining order and can sanction congressional deputies for violation of rules and regulations. Other seats on the Mesa are largely symbolic, however, since the party with the most seats in Congress usually holds sway with a majority of votes.

In the new legislative session, the Socialists and Unidas Podemos combined will hold six of the nine seats. At the very least, that should ensure that if acting President Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist party is able to form a new government in coalition with Unidas Podemos, there will be little opposition from within the Mesa to the ability of the progressive left to set the agenda for discussion and debate of fiscal and social legislation in the new legislative session.

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