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UPDATE 1-Amid tensions, Spain's lawmakers likely to back Sanchez as leader

Reuters | Madrid | Updated: 07-01-2020 16:19 IST | Created: 07-01-2020 16:04 IST
UPDATE 1-Amid tensions, Spain's lawmakers likely to back Sanchez as leader

Spain's parliament was expected to confirm Pedro Sanchez as head of government by a tiny margin on Tuesday, as some lawmakers identified as holding casting votes said they were facing growing pressure to turn against the Socialist leader.

After two inconclusive national elections in 2019 and nearly a year of caretaker governments, Sanchez - whose party came first in both ballots - is expected to be voted in as the head of the first coalition government since Spain's return to democracy in the 1970s. The coalition between Sanchez and left-wing Podemos is expected to win by a margin of just about two votes, prompting the Socialist Party to ask all its lawmakers to get to Madrid on Monday to ensure none missed the vote, El Pais newspaper said.

In a sign of rising political tensions on Tuesday, politicians accused each other of pressuring lawmakers, in particular from small regional parties that said they would back Sanchez, to change their minds. Tomas Guitarte, the sole lawmaker of the "Teruel Existe" (Teruel Exists) start-up party, who said he would vote in favour of Sanchez, denounced cyber-harassment, after a picture circulated of graffiti in his hometown calling him "traitor."

"It's intolerable that in a democratic country like ours we see such threats and pressures," acting Treasury Minister Maria Jesus Montero said on TVE television. Socialist lawmaker Jose Luis Aceves said he received emails asking him to "betray Sanchez" by changing his vote and that a colleague had received threatening messages on Whatsapp from people who thought they were messaging Aceves.

In his first attempt on Sunday, Sanchez secured 166 "yes" votes against 165 "no", but failed to get the absolute majority he needed, with 18 legislators abstaining. In Tuesday's second parliamentary vote he needs only a simple majority of more 'yes' than 'no' votes.

Podemos legislator Aina Vidal, who was not present on Sunday for health reasons, said via her Twitter account that she would vote on Tuesday, strengthening marginally Sanchez's position. Were Tuesday's vote to fail, Sanchez still has till early March to try and secure parliament's backing.

If things go as expected, Sanchez and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has said they would push for tax increases on high-income earners and companies and would roll back labour reforms passed by a previous conservative government. But without a solid majority in parliament, the coalition may struggle to pass legislation and would need to negotiate with allies on a case by case basis.

Together, the Socialists and Podemos have 155 seats in the highly fragmented 350-seat parliament, meaning Tuesday's vote depends on smaller regional parties including separatist Catalan party, Esquerra Republica de Catalunya (ERC). The parliamentary session is scheduled to start at 12 p.m. (1100 GMT).


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