Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will announce on Friday whether he calls an early general election, the government said, after right-wing and Catalan independence parties rejected his draft 2019 budget.
Sánchez, who came to power in June, thanks in part to parliamentary support from 17 Catalan lawmakers, was depending on their votes to push his first budget through but they withdrew their backing.
The pro-independence ERC and PDeCAT parties, whose votes helped oust the previous right-wing Spanish government to put the Socialists in power, rejected the bill after Sánchez failed to make concessions on self-determination or the independence leaders now on trial in Spain’s Supreme Court.
‘The cabinet will meet on Friday. The decision [on elections] of the prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, will be announced after the meeting,’ the Spanish government said in a statement.
The next national election is due mid-2020. Various opinion polls – the latest published on Wednesday in online daily eldiario.es – point to a right-wing majority in parliament post-elections formed by the right-wing People’s Party (PP), centre-right Ciudadanos (Cs) and far-right Vox party.
‘End of the road’
Sánchez’s socialists have already adopted a campaign-like tone, accusing conservatives and Catalonia separatists of blocking a budget that included many social spending measures.
‘The right-wing in this country is trying to put a brake on the social progress of this budget and this government,’ Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said after the rejection.
‘It’s trying to stop this country from moving forward,’ she said, adding it was likely early elections would be called but refusing to comment further.
Pablo Casado, leader of the right-wing People’s Party (PP), said the budget rejection marked ‘the end of the road for Pedro Sanchez as prime minister.’
‘It’s now really pressing to call general elections.’
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The Socialist party spokeswoman in Congress, Adriana Lastra, earlier accused ERC and PDeCAT of ‘vetoing’ the budget with demands she said were ‘inadmissible,’ as they are not allowed by the Spanish Constitution, while the government could not ‘interfere’ in the trial.
Lastra also accused the pro-independence parties of ‘dynamiting’ the efforts at dialogue between Spain and Catalonia, and blamed the lack of progress on the ‘intransigence’ of ERC and PDeCAT.
Lastra also had harsh words for the right-wing opposition parties, which she accused of ‘irresponsible opposition.’
‘The interest of the country does not matter to them at all,’ she said.
In the run-up to the budget vote, the Socialists had insisted that the spending plan would benefit Catalonia, and the spokeswoman cast doubt on the reach of the pro-independence parties, asking: ‘Are they sure they represent the whole of Catalonia.’
Right-wing parties accuse the socialist government of ‘high treason’ for negotiating with Catalonia’s pro-independence executive as Madrid tries to ease tensions with the northeastern region after a secession attempt in October 2017.
The budget also contained an increase in investment in Catalonia.
But with pro-secession leaders on trial for their role in the 2017 attempt to break Catalonia from Spain, separatist lawmakers Sánchez depends on filed amendments to block the budget last week.
On Friday, negotiations between Madrid and the Catalan government broke down, angering separatists.
The parliament approved their amendments on Wednesday with 191 votes in favour in the 350-member assembly, defeating the budget.
Sánchez’ government would now in theory have to re-examine its budget and present a new, revised version.
In the current climate, though, with Sánchez left with so little parliamentary support, analysts predict he will call early general elections.
‘Legally he is not obliged to do so,’ said Antonio Barroso, deputy research director at the Teneo analysis group.
‘But politically, the question is whether the government would be justified (in not calling polls).’
Even before the vote, the socialist government was accusing right-wing and separatist parties of opposing a social budget that contrasts with the austerity of Mariano Rajoy‘s previous conservative executive.
‘After seven years of social injustice, right-wing forces and the independence movement will vote against a social budget,’ Sánchez tweeted on Tuesday.
‘Both want the same thing: that Catalonia be at war with itself and that Spain be at war with itself.’