The days of warm words about cross-party loyalty and collective responsibility are over in Spain. As the lockdown lengthens, the opposition is once again gunning for the prime minister.
During the first weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, things were so serious it was nearly impossible for the opposition to slam the leftist coalition government without being accused of disloyalty. But with the lockdown extended from two weeks to at least six, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchezs political rivals are sharpening their claws.
At a highly charged parliamentary session on Thursday, Sánchez announced Spain had “reached and overcome” the peak of coronavirus infections, but warned he would most likely have to request a third extension of the lockdown, until mid-May. More than 15,000 people had died of COVID-19 in the country as of Thursday.
“After weeks of fighting … we see how the fire that unleashed the pandemic is starting to come under control,” Sánchez told Congress. “The data, with all the prudence that we can express, are encouraging.”
The government managed to get the support of most MPs to extend the lockdown and the state of alarm to April 26, in a vote on Thursday evening (there were 270 votes in favor, 54 against and 25 abstentions). But the opposition didnt hold back in its criticism. The center-right Popular Party, the second-largest party in Congress, accused Sánchez of responding too late to the crisis and “lying” about problems with the supply of testing kits and protective gear.
Sánchezs smaller temporary allies are not supporting his emergency decrees that put in place economic measures.
“You showed today that you dont deserve the support of the opposition,” PP leader Pablo Casado said. “Your lies, arrogance and incompetence are an explosive cocktail for Spain.”
Luis Tejero, head of public affairs at the consultancy Grayling in Madrid, said the PP and the liberal Ciudadanos are trying to strike a balance between showing loyalty to the government at such a difficult time and representing millions of voters — including many business leaders — who disapprove of the governments response.
“Its a difficult balance to maintain for so many consecutive weeks, especially in a context of polarization like the current one,” he said. “We must bear in mind that Spain has just left two successive general elections behind. The new legislature had only just started [when the crisis hit], so there wasnt time to moderate the confrontational tone typical of electoral campaigns.”
The change in tone is most clearly seen with the far-right Vox, which on Thursday became the only major party to vote down Sánchezs request for a lockdown extension.
Last weekend, when Sánchez reached out to all opposition leaders to discuss the next steps against the coronavirus, Vox leader Santiago Abascal refused to speak with him and reiterated his calls for the prime ministers resignation.
In a letter to La Moncloa, the prime ministers official residence, Abascal gave 10 reasons why he refused to speak with the prime minister, including that Sánchez had “unilaterally changed the conditions of the state of alarm” by toughening its rules to comply with “what the separatists and the far left asked him to do.” Abascal accused the government of putting Spain on “the edge of a criminal dictatorship.”
Vox is attacking on other fronts. The party has announced its intention to take the government to the Constitutional Court over its decision to declare a state of alarm. Vox argues Sánchez should have declared the more stringent “state of exception” in order to curtail some fundamental rights such as freedom of movement.
And after Abascal and other Vox MPs recovered from COVID-19, the party threatened to send all 52 of its MPs to Thursdays parliamentary session, going against an agreement to limit how many lawmakers are present in the chamber. He eventually backed down.
“Santiago Abascals party does not seem to have any intention to show loyalty to the government in these circumstances,” said Tejero. “Its strategy consists of going against the tide and speaking louder and tougher than the rest. They speak to the discontent of certain social groups in this convulsive moment.”
Voxs strategy is having an effect on the PPs style. With 88 MPs out of 350, the PP is still the largest opposition party but it is feeling pressure from a far-right party that just five months ago increased its representation from 24 to 52 MPs.
“For too long the PP has been used to not having any relevant competitor in its ideological space. For over 20 years [former PP leaders] José María Aznar and Mariano Rajoy managed to accumulate between 35 and 45 percent of the votes — an unimaginable share nowadays,” said Tejero.
Soldiers deployed at Atocha railway station in Madrid | Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images
The PPs dilemma could be seen last week when it announced that up to 45 MPs would turn up at Thursdays parliamentary session, arguing it was time foRead More – Source