Josep Catà – EFE, El País in english
The third-largest force in Congress says the Socialist leader is betraying the nation over his deal with Catalan separatists, who endorsed his government in exchange for talks
Spain’s far-right party, Vox, on Sunday called demonstrations across the country at which the newly confirmed prime minister, Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE), was described as a “traitor” to the nation.
The party said that its rallies attracted 100,000 people. The biggest protest took place in Madrid, where around 4,000 demonstrators marched “in defense of the Constitution.” In Barcelona, there were moments of tension as protesters bearing Francoist symbols coincided with anti-fascist and pro-independence demonstrators participating in another rally.
The protests were officially called by a group called España Existe (Spain Exists), which has ties to Vox. The overarching message was the rejection of the Sánchez government, which was facilitated in part through an abstention by the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) at last week’s investiture vote. In exchange for its support, the separatist party has secured a pledge that the central and Catalan governments will sit down for talks on the “political conflict” in the northeastern region – a deal Vox has described as “treason” and “fraud.”
At Sunday’s demonstrations, protesters marched for national unity and for “equality among all Spaniards.” Neither the mainstream conservatives of the Popular Party (PP) nor the right-of-center Ciudadanos (Citizens) sent any representatives to these marches.
Vox first entered Spanish governing institutions at the Andalusian elections of December 2018, when it gained 12 seats in the regional parliament. The ultranationalists went on to secure 24 seats inside the national Congress at the April 28 election, taking 10.3% of the vote. And the party surged at the repeat election of November 10, when it became the third-largest force in the lower house with 52 lawmakers.
While Sánchez won the election, he fell short of a parliamentary majority and was forced to seek additional support for his proposed coalition government with the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos. Both the PP and Ciudadanos refused to endorse Sánchez, who turned instead to several smaller regional parties, including the ERC, whose leader Oriol Junqueras is serving a lengthy prison sentence after being convicted by the Supreme Court last year over his role in the 2017 failed secession attempt.
Marchers held up signs reading “Sánchez go away, Spain does not want you”
According to Vox, these negotiations were a betrayal of Spain. On Sunday, the president of the far-right party, Santiago Abascal, read out a manifesto outside Madrid City Hall to the tune of the national anthem, while some demonstrators held up signs reading “Sánchez go away, Spain does not want you.”
In his speech, Abascal told the new coalition government to respect Spanish sovereignty and the Spanish Constitution. Vox’s leader made additional demands: for Sánchez to “bring back under arrest the coup plotter Carles Puigdemont” and “to arrest the convict [Catalan premier] Quim Torra.”
Puigdemont is a former Catalan premier who fled Spain in late 2017 after leading the failed breakaway bid, and who is currently residing in Belgium. Puigdemont was elected a member of European Parliament (MEP) at the May election last year, and after a lengthy legal wrangle regarding his eligibility to sit in the EU Parliament, considering that there have been European and Spanish arrest warrants against him, recently picked up his MEP credentials.
Quim Torra, the current leader of Catalonia’s pro-independence government, was recently found guilty of disobedience over his refusal to remove separatist symbols from public buildings during an election campaign, and has been barred from office for 18 months. He has appealed the sentence, which is still under review.
According to Vox, approximately 2,500 people turned up for the protests in Málaga, Sevilla, Alicante, Murcia, Palma de Mallorca and Santander; and around 1,500 in Zaragoza, Oviedo, Valladolid, Granada, Gijón and Badajoz.
English version by Susana Urra.