Budget defeated, all eyes on Sánchez for early elections

Pedro Sánchez in Spain's Congress during budget debate. Photo: Sergio Pérez/Reuters via La Vanguardia
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The Spanish government’s 2019 federal budget proposal was defeated in Congress on Wednesday by a vote of 191 to 158 with one abstention, paving the way for an announcement expected Friday from President Pedro Sánchez as to if and when he will dissolve Congress and schedule new national elections, which most observers see as imminent.

The defeat of the budget proposal, negotiated by Sánchez’s Socialist party (PSOE) with left-wing budget allies Unidos Podemos and the Basque Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV), occurred as Catalonia’s ERC (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya) and PDeCAT (Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català) broke ranks with the fragile coalition of parties that brought Sánchez to power in a no-confidence vote last May against President Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Partido Popular (PP).

The Catalan pro-independence parties voted against the budget because the government would not accept the a priori condition that all-party talks over the future of Spain’s northeast region must include negotiations toward a referendum on Catalan independence from Spain, which has been ruled unconstitutional by Spain’s Tribuna Constitucional. In voting against the Sánchez government, the Catalans paradoxically sided with the PP and centre-right Ciudadanos parties, the two right-wing parties in Congress most vehemently opposed to any discussion of Catalan self-determination on the independence issue.

Although in principal the minority Sánchez government could continue in power, attempting to govern and pass piecemeal legislation with just 84 seats in the 350-member Congress, senior government ministers have pointed to dissolution of Congress by Sánchez and the calling of snap elections as the most likely outcome of the budget defeat. Sánchez is required by Spain’s Constitution to consult with his government’s Council of Ministers before any such move, focusing all eyes on the aftermath of Friday’s regularly scheduled Council of Ministers meeting for the Spanish president’s announcement.

Many observers believe that elections will be called for late April, enabling the reconstitution of a new Congress to be decided through a quick campaign on national issues that will not conflict with the upcoming municipal, regional and European Parliament elections scheduled for Sunday 26th May.

Some believe that Sánchez could decide to bundle the national, local and EU elections together in “Super Sunday” balloting on 26th May, hoping to effect a large turnout that would overcome Socialist party voter apathy and rally his party’s bases against the rising rght-wing coalition of the PP, Ciudadanos and ultra-nationalist Vox parties, who recently joined forces in Andalucia to oust the Socialists after nearly 40 years governing Spain’s southernmost region.

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