24th February 2024
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Spain’s opposition parties condemn amnesty plan, as protests against PSOE increase

Spain’s right-wing and far-right opposition parties, as well as members of the country’s judiciary, have stepped up criticism of acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s plans to offer amnesty for all Catalan pro-independence figures still facing legal action following the 2017 referendum, in order to win the support of the Catalan parties in a forthcoming investiture vote. ALSO READ: PSOE preparing draft Catalan amnesty bill ahead of Sánchez investiture vote.

Sánchez’s PSOE socialists finished second in the 23 July general election and he has until 27 November to form a working coalition, or face fresh elections.

Sánchez needs the support of the two Catalan pro-independence parties, the Esquerra Republicana (ERC) and Junts per Catalunya (JxCat) and has agreed to their demands to offer amnesty.

Sánchez already has the support of the more moderate ERC party, but has yet to secure the backing of JxCat, the party of Carles Puigdemont, who was the Catalan president at the time of the 2017 illegal referendum. ALSO READ: Puigdemont keeps Sánchez waiting on investiture deal.

In response, opposition parties have hardened their tone in recent days, accusing Sánchez of corruption and abandoning the rule of law. The opposition accuse the socialist leader, who once opposed amnesty, to be willing to do anything to stay in power. ALSO READ: Right-wing and far-right politicians join thousands in anti-amnesty rally in Barcelona.

‘Exchanging votes for impunity is corruption,’ Alberto Núñez Feijóo, head of the main right-wing opposition, the People’s Party (PP), said on Saturday at a meeting in the Basque region, before vowing a day later at a rally in Valencia that ‘we will defend Spain’.

Meanwhile there have been protests outside the headquarters of the PSOE in Madrid in recent days, organised by the ‘Revuelta’ group, reportedly a ‘youth movement’ supported by the far-right Vox party, according to Spanish media. Revuelta have posted on social media (see Tweet below) that the protests against the PSOE are expanding to other cities across Spain – including Seville, Barcelona, Badajoz, Murcia, Valencia and Zaragoza.

Members of the Spanish judiciary have also stepped up their criticism.

The Professional Association of Magistrates, a conservative body that represents the majority of the country’s judges, last Thursday issued a statement calling the measures ‘the beginning of the end of democracy’ that would ‘destroy the rule of law’.

The General Council of the Judiciary, the body that names Spain’s judges, will meet later Monday to discuss the issue.

Conservative members of the body said an amnesty would represent a ‘degradation and even an elimination of the rule of law’.

Background to Catalan political conflict

Nine Catalan politicians and activists were jailed for between 9-13 years by the Spanish Supreme Court in October 2019, convicted of sedition and misuse of public funds for their role in the 2017 illegal referendum, with the verdicts causing widespread protests across Catalonia. In June 2021, the nine walked free from prison, following pardons granted by the government led by socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, but they remained banned from holding public office.

Late last year, Spain passed a controversial criminal code reform that downgraded the two charges used against them, abolishing sedition and replacing it with that of aggravated public disorder, and also reducing the penalty for misuse of public funds.

Misuse of public funds can carry prison time of between six months and up to five years if convicted, but disobedience only carries a disqualification from public office.

Carles Puigdemont led the government of Catalonia when it staged the referendum banned by Madrid and the courts, which was followed by a short-lived declaration of independence. 

The JxCat leader fled Spain shortly after to avoid prosecution and now lives in Belgium, where he is also an MEP. His JxCat party unexpectedly emerged as kingmaker following the 23 July early general election in Spain.

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