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Alberto Núñez Feijóo again asks Spanish MPs to back him for PM

Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the leader of Spain’s conservative People’s party (PP), will conclude his all but doomed attempt to win power on Friday when he once again asks MPs to back him as the next prime minister despite lacking the necessary votes in congress.

Although the PP finished first in July’s snap general election, it failed to win enough votes to form a government, taking 137 seats in Spain’s 350-seat congress, and scored a far less emphatic win over the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) than had been expected.

Despite knowing he did not have the numbers to reach the absolute majority threshold of 176 seats – even with the support of the far-right Vox party and two smaller groupings – Feijóo received King Felipe’s blessing to attempt an investiture this week.

As predicted, he lost the first vote on Wednesday by 172 votes to 178, falling four votes short of the absolute majority he needed. Friday’s vote, which requires only a simple majority – more yes votes than no votes – seems equally unlikely to put Feijóo in the Moncloa Palace.

If, as expected, Feijóo’s bid fails, the socialist leader and acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, will then seek the king’s permission to attempt to form a government.

It will not be an easy task – not least in the court of public opinion. While Sánchez can count on votes from his own party, from its partners in the leftwing Sumar alliance and from a handful of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties, he will also need to enlist the support of Junts, the hardline Catalan separatist party led by Carles Puigdemont.

The problem for Sánchez is that Puigdemont, who fled Spain to avoid arrest over his role in the unilateral and unlawful push for independence six years ago, has insisted his support will be conditional on the granting of amnesty to him and hundreds of others involved in the attempted secession.

Sánchez’s refusal to rule out such amnesty – not to mention his decision to send the Sumar leader and acting deputy prime minister, Yolanda Díaz, to Brussels to discuss the situation with Puigdemont – has proved deeply controversial.

On Thursday, Junts and the more moderate Catalan Republican Left [ERC] party attempted to ramp up the pressure on the PSOE still further, saying they would not support a central government that did not “undertake to work to bring about the conditions for the holding of a referendum [on regional independence]”.

The socialists, however, have repeatedly ruled out such a referendum and reminded Junts and the ERC of their position in a statement on Thursday evening.

“Dialogue must serve as a means to overcome division and not as a means to deepen the rupture and the discord that has generated so much tension in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain,” the PSOE said in the joint communiqué with its Catalan branch.

“There is no possible progress down that path. The path [to take] is that of coexistence and cohesion, of understanding, and of the social and economic progress of Catalonia and the rest of Spain – always within the bounds of the constitution.”

The amnesty issue has helped Feijóo recover his standing in his party and stave off possible leadership challenges amid internal disappointment over the July result.

Speaking to MPs on the first day of his investiture debate on Tuesday, Feijóo was adamant that he would not consider any amnesty or steps towards Catalan self-determination, even if doing so would cost him the opportunity to become prime minister.

“I will not forsake the equality of Spaniards – something we all share – to become prime minister,” he said. “I will not jump through any hoop that stands counter to the general interest to become prime minister. I will not betray the trust of the Spaniards who vote for me to become prime minister.”

On Sunday, more than 40,000 people attended a PP-led demonstration in Madrid protesting against the possible amnesty. Addressing the crowds, Feijóo accused Sánchez of “an utter lack of moral and political integrity” and of degrading Spanish democracy in order to hang on as prime minister.

Sánchez opted not to speak during the investiture debate. His party instead pointedly chose Óscar Puente, a socialist MP who served as the mayor of the city of Valladolid until he was ousted by a Vox/PP coalition despite finishing first in May’s municipal elections.

“Mr Feijóo, neither you nor I won the elections,” he told the PP leader. “Look, in a parliamentary democracy, leading the party that wins the most votes doesn’t mean you won the election. In a parliamentary democracy, the one who wins is the one who can put together a government.”

If Feijóo fails in his bid to become prime minister, Sánchez will have until the end of November to attempt to form a government. Should that fail, Spain will return to the polls in January for its sixth general election in nine years.

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