Staff writer Fernando Miranda España shed’s light on Spain’s current political debate over the amnesty for Catalonia’s independence leaders
Madrid awoke on September 24 to find its streets more packed than normal. Around 40,000 people from all corners of Spain were moving through the capital’s boulevards and avenues. They were all making their way to “Plaza de Felipe II”, where Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, secretary general of the Popular Party (PP), had organized a significant protest against the possibility that those responsible for the referendum on Catalonia’s independence in 2017 would receive amnesty for their acts. This begs the question: how did we get here? What would this political amnesty or pardon entail?
The Elections of July 23
The Spanish political scene is, as we can infer, in a delicate situation, defined by the existence of two polarized coalitions. On one side of the political spectrum, we find the ring-wing group, formed by the Popular Party (Feijoo’s party, with 137 seats), and the far-right group, Vox (with 33 seats). On the other side, the Socialist Party, PSOE (with 121 seats in parliament), and Sumar (with 31 seats) constitute the left-wing coalition currently in charge of the acting government. To have a shot at the presidency, those coalitions would need to secure, at least 176 seats. PP-Vox has 170, while PSOE-Sumar has 152.
This lack of support meant that, if any of these groups wanted to ensure their control over the parliament, they would need to find support from other political parties. Despite holding the largest number of seats, the PP’s alliance with Vox has proven to be a detriment in finding other allies within the walls of Congress. Most of the remaining political parties refuse to deal with Vox. This opposition stems from the fact that these parties represent nationalist movements from the autonomous communities of the Basque Country (PNV, EhBildu), Galicia (BNG), and, of course, Catalonia, towards which Vox has been openly critical.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that despite the determination of the PP to achieve those 176 seats, the investiture of Alberto Núñez Feijoo failed to become a reality. Thus, after a failed vote on September 26, all eyes once again turned to Pedro Sánchez, the acting president of the state. The General Secretary of the Socialist Party (PSOE) now had the possibility of securing his re-election. However, the chances of Sánchez returning to the presidential seat, consequently avoiding the feared electoral repetition, depended on the support of that plethora of nationalistic parliamentary groups.
Most of these nationalistic parliamentary groups quickly began to lay the footwork that the left-wing coalition had to follow if they wanted to ensure their support. On this matter, the majority of their demands though meaningful, have been mostly minor queries. For instance, the Catalonian nationalist party, Esquerra Republicana, stated that to get their support, the acting government would have to change the Parliament’s language regulation, allowing the use of other co-official languages (like Catalonian and Galician). The government has been quick in responding and fulfilling these demands. However, despite the support they have slowly but surely been acquiring, they still need to secure the “Yes” of one final party: “Junts per Catalunya” (Together for Catalonia; JxCat).
Junts and Amnesty
Junts has been one of the most prominent members of Spain’s political ecosystem since the events of October 1, 2017. The referendum and failed unilateral declaration of independence culminated with the imprisonment of 9 of the politicians behind the process and the exile of Carles Puidgemont, the secretary-general of the party, who sought refuge in Belgium. 6 years later, the Catalonian independence party has been granted a golden opportunity. If they play their cards right, they just might rekindle the flickering flames of Catalonia’s independence movement.
For the past weeks since the July elections, Junts has been laying all the necessary preparations for negotiation talks with the standing government. Those talks, though ideally centred around various issues, will most certainly be focused on one particular demand: amnesty for the politicians behind Catalonia’s abortive independence.
Such a proposal triggered a wide array of reactions across Spain’s political landscape. The PP and Vox, as we can deduce from the events depicted at the beginning of our commentary, have shown their direct opposition to such a possibility. Both parties have based their arguments on the fear that amnesty “will break Spain”, and that we would be destined to repeat the events that unfolded in 2017. The PSOE and Sumar on the other hand, while remaining quiet, have recently started making moves towards a possible “Amnesty Law” that could secure Pedro Sánchez the presidency.
What the Future may Hold
Although it is likely that Sánchez will agree to Junts’ request for amnesty, it also appears to be likely that Puidgemont’s party won’t simply stop there. However, the political cost that such a measure would bring about for the left-wing alliance and the likelihood of requests for another independence referendum are certain to have an impact not just on Spain’s still-young democratic system.
The Amnesty Law may create a precedent that sparks a wave of independence movements in numerous nearby countries, reaching Scotland in the UK or Quebec on Canada. Whether or not this becomes a reality will depend on how PSOE and Junts’ predicament is resolved, and how the latter’s demands are met. Nevertheless, we ought to carefully observe the events that will unfold in the coming weeks, for they may be the very start of a dominoe effect that goes beyond the frontiers of Spain.