The unity of Spain’s first-ever coalition government has faced its toughest test in three years of power this week, with the two ruling parties, the PSOE socialists and left-wing Podemos group, at loggerheads over reforming a pioneering sexual violence law, known as the ‘Only Yes is Yes’ law, that has inadvertently led to the reduction of sentences for over 700 offenders.
Podemos, which championed the new law last year, voted late on Tuesday in the Spanish Congress against considering a reform proposed by the PSOE to restore higher prison terms for future sexual offenders.
However, the proposed modification passed its first vote — with 231 for, 56 against, and 58 abstaining — to proceed through the legislative process.
The PSOE pushed it through with the rare backing of the right-wing People’s Party (PP) that leads the opposition. That alignment was considered a betrayal by Podemos, considering the PP’s record of opposing laws like expanding abortion rights. ALSO READ: Spain’s constitutional court finally rejects abortion law challenge, from 13 years ago.
The PSOE say the current law is flawed and want to make technical tweaks to restore higher minimum sentences. For example, they want rape convictions to be punished by at least six years behind bars, instead of the four established under the new law.
But the coalition government’s Equality Minister, Irene Montero, a member of Podemos who initiated the new law, insists the problem is the endemic sexism of some judges. ALSO READ: Spanish minister accuses judges of ‘machismo’ after loophole in Spain’s new rape law used to reduce sentences.
She says the PSOE’s proposal would betray the essence of the law, which makes lack of consent by a victim the key to determining if there is a sex crime. The proposed change would reintroduce the importance given to whether force is used by an alleged aggressor. The PSOE insist consent will remain central to the law. Podemos disagrees.
Both parties have said the coalition will stay intact and finish the legislature this year. But the wounds from the law’s fallout could see the end of a successful partnership that has produced several progressive laws, but risks being divided by its flagship cause.
The government, which has 14 women and nine men in its cabinet, has passed a series of feminist laws, including laws on abortion, menstrual leave and improved maternity and paternity leave, among others.