How did Spain’s Equality Minister fall from grace?

Montero, who was hailed on the cover of Time magazine as the saviour of feminism in Spain now faces a completely uncertain political future. But why?

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Her jaw clenched as she spoke, Spain’s former Equality Minister Irene Montero last week wished her successor courage – not luck.

“Today, Pedro Sánchez is kicking me out of this government,” Montero said, referring to the newly re-elected Spanish prime minister’s cabinet appointments.

Sánchez, who is known for his unexpected cabinet reshuffles, decided not to count on her to continue leading the Equality Ministry and appointed a surprise new minister for feminism, the unknown Ana Redondo.

“I hope they never leave you alone and that you have the courage to make the president’s 40- and 50-year-old male friends uncomfortable,” Montero said angrily, minutes before handing Redondo the gender equality portfolio.

Her voice, which threatened to break, managed to hold up during the speech.

Hailed on the cover of Time magazine only last February as the saviour of feminism in Spain, Montero now faces a completely uncertain political future.

“Since she became minister in 2020, a nation that not 50 years ago required women to obtain their father’s or husband’s permission in order to work has consolidated its position among Europe’s most feminist countries,” said the publication.

But why did the former minister go from front-page news to being removed from office?

A fall from grace?

The daughter of a removal man and a teacher, Montero – whose only job before entering politics was as a supermarket cashier – rose to the top of Spanish politics with Podemos.

It was in 2015 that the insurgent left-wing party became a dazzling star, putting an end to the two-party system that had been in place in Spain since 1982.

Four years later, Spain’s ruling Socialists entered into a coalition agreement with Podemos, and Montero took over the equality ministry.

“There is a lot of polarisation around her, especially from people outside her party. She is a minister who generates resentment and antipathy. She is not the typical candidate who generates transversality. But this is not a yardstick to judge whether she has been a good minister or not,” political scientist Lluís Orriols told Euronews.

“There are ministers who seek transversality and consensus and other ministers who want to push an agenda that they know will generate a lot of opposition because it touches on some very entrenched elements in the political culture of a country,” he adds.

The minister herself told Time magazine that she had a choice to make: “Are we going to dare to be part of the democratising impulse coming from the feminist movement and civil society, or are we going to maintain a more timid or conservative attitude?”

Although Equality has always been a controversial ministry, Montero’s tenure has been particularly turbulent.

Many have criticised her for “hijacking feminism”, to the extent that the feminist movement became subservient to the ministry.

“She followed a pattern that sounds like enlightened despotism. The ministry said: ‘This is what really protects women. This is what we should really do with transgender people. This is what is authentic, this is what is progressive and this is what we are going to impose,” Fernando Vallespín, professor of political science at the Autonomous University of Madrid, told Euronews.

“It wasn’t necessary for Irene Montero to be there for feminist advances to be consolidated under a progressive government. It seems to me very questionable that she was so fundamental for women’s rights”.

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“But what she has really worked for is the inclusion of all LGTBI people, especially transsexuals, as part of feminist rights. A qualitative leap that is not without risk,” he adds.

What is clear is that the impact of her policy has not gone unnoticed by the international press.

The infamous ‘only yes is yes’ law

Many believe that Montero’s resignation is the political price she had to pay after the approval of the new rape law, popularly known as “only yes is yes”.

A law whose consequences eventually became unbearable for the government.

The controversial law, which came into force a year ago, was intended to be stricter than the previous code, but instead resulted in reduced sentences for more than 1,000 sex offenders convicted under the previous legislation.

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The reform was a direct response to the infamous ‘La Manada’ case, in which a young woman was gang raped by five men during the San Fermín celebrations in Pamplona in 2016.

The reform revised the penal code by making sexual consent the key factor in determining assault cases, in an attempt to define all non-consensual sex as rape.

The law abolished the lesser charge of sexual abuse and classified all offences as sexual assault. However, it also reduced the minimum and maximum prison sentences, resulting in offenders having their sentences reduced on appeal.

Montero ignored warnings from judicial institutions about these consequences before the reform was passed and went ahead with her plan.

“This law was supposed to be the one that would give Podemos political credit, it was supposed to be its star law. Instead, it was very problematic, it wore down the government. What ended up on the public agenda was that many rapists were released from prison,” Orriols points out.

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“Instead of becoming the law that would make Irene Montero one of the icons of the feminist struggle, it became a major crisis,” he adds.

Probably her biggest mistake, according to experts, was not realising that it was necessary to stop the release of rapists by reforming the newly introduced law.

The ruling Socialist Party had to initiate the new amendment, which was passed with the support of the conservatives and against the will of Podemos.

From that moment on, the minister became the target of everyone’s scorn, becoming the worst-rated minister in the government.

Although not everyone feels the same.

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“For the Woke culture, it is possible that she is even seen as a goddess, because she has fought hard in everything else, but for others this is not the case at all. She has become the minister who has made the most noise,” says Vallespín.

Time magazine itself asked: Is this crisis a sign of unbridgeable divisions between the progressive, feminist Spain that Montero envisions and a conservative, patriarchal reality that remains entrenched? Or is it a lesson in the perils of applying ideology to society at large?

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Explained: Why violence hit Madrid’s streets ahead of Catalan deal

As Spain’s Socialists have just signed a pact with the pro-independence Catalan party, we explain why the deal has sparked violent protests on the streets of Madrid.

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After six days of protests, tensions on the streets of Madrid appear to have eased as demonstrators sought to avoid clashes with police.

On Tuesday night, around 7,000 people gathered outside the Socialist Party headquarters when the demonstrations turned violent.

Radicals monopolised the front row, throwing bottles and even barriers at police who moved in to disperse the group.

The streets of several Spanish cities have been filled with people opposing negotiations between Spain’s acting government and Catalan separatist parties over a possible amnesty for thousands involved in Catalonia’s independence movement.

In central Madrid, people chanted “Sánchez, son of a b****” and “Puigdemont to jail”, referring to acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez and Catalan independence leader Carles Puigdemont, who is currently in self-imposed exile in Belgium.

A total of ten people were arrested, and health workers treated 39 people, 30 of them police officers.

“Today is historic,” said journalist Vito Quiles on his social networks.

“(The amnesty) is humiliating. They didn’t take into account the opinion of half the population,” two pensioners who took part in the demonstration told El País.

The agreement signed on Thursday between the Socialist Party and Puigdemont’s party moves the country away from a de-escalation of tensions, but why are Spaniards so angry with Sánchez?

‘The beginning of the end of democracy’

Madrid’s Calle Ferraz, where the Socialist Party headquarters are located, has been the scene of Spanish discontent for days.

Pedro Sánchez, acting prime minister and leader of the Socialists, was negotiating with Catalan separatist parties to secure their support in his bid to form a new government and keep his centre-left coalition in power after an inconclusive national election in July.

But the demands of the Catalan pro-independence parties have not gone down well with the public.

Among the promises that Pedro Sánchez made to these parties was the cancellation of 20% of Catalonia’s debt to the state, which amounts to €15 billion.

Following an outcry from the other regions, the Socialist Party assured them the agreement would be extended to the other regional debts.

However, the Junts per Catalunya party – led by Puigdemont – still holds the key to Sánchez’s government.

The seven seats they won in the last general election are essential for the Socialists to return to government.

What they are demanding in exchange for these coveted seats is what has most inflamed Spaniards: amnesty for political leaders implicated in Catalonia’s independence bid.

“The landscape is very worrying. On the one hand, the investiture negotiations are aberrant. On the other hand, dangerous steps have been taken in the recent protests,” Óscar Sánchez-Alonso, professor of politics at the Faculty of Communication of the Pontifical University of Salamanca, told Euronews.

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“Alongside those who are legitimately and peacefully expressing their dissatisfaction, there is also a growing concentration of groups willing to use violence, and in some sectors the idea has taken hold that if the law doesn’t apply to some, it is logical to break it in other directions,” he added.

The pro-independence parties have stated that “all those who were repressed, without exception” will benefit from the amnesty – a total of 1,432 people, according to calculations by the pro-independence organisation Òmnium Cultural.

It is a decision that has divided Spanish society, with 56.5% of the country against it, according to the latest poll by Simple Lógica, which specialises in public opinion research.

The judges also wanted to have their say. The main association of magistrates has issued a very strong statement against the approval of an amnesty.

“It is the beginning of the end of our democracy,” it said, adding that the amnesty law “is not allowed by the Constitution”.

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Who would benefit from the amnesty?

As demonstrations took place in Spanish cities, the Socialist Party has been negotiating ‘intensively’ with Puigdemont’s party to reach an agreement signed this Thursday.

Negotiators said the unrest in Madrid had not affected talks with the pro-independence parties.

Of the more than 1,400 people who would benefit from the future amnesty law, politicians top the list. The first major beneficiary is Puigdemont, who faces charges of disobedience and embezzlement.

The list of names includes politicians, mayors, civil servants and also citizens charged with public disorder or even terrorism.

Although the negotiations have not been made public, the main stumbling block preventing the two parties from reaching an agreement was Puigdemont’s demand that the amnesty not exclude some of his entourage.

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Spanish media suggest that some of these people are under investigation or have been convicted of crimes unrelated to the independence declaration.

For example, the former president of the Catalan parliament, Laura Borràs, who was convicted of splitting public contracts in favour of a friend; or Puigdemont’s lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, who is being investigated for allegedly laundering drug money.

However, the protests are not only taking place outside the Socialist Party headquarters, but also within its own walls.

Party heavyweights have openly spoken out against them, to the point of creating an internal war.

“In some cases, the debate has been resolved with the expulsion (of the member) from the Socialist Party; other voices, such as Felipe González, ex-president of the Socialist government, have been dismissed as past history with little to contribute,” points out Sánchez-Alonso.

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For Paloma Román, director of the School of Government at Madrid’s Complutense University, there are dissenting militants in every party, but the tension caused by the recent riots could help the Socialists to close ranks around the amnesty.

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A compromise too far? Spain’s Sanchez has ‘little wiggle room’ to stay in power

Spain’s conservative leader saw his final bid to become prime minister rejected by parliament on Friday, paving the way for Socialist incumbent Pedro Sanchez to have another shot at cobbling together a majority – with the backing of separatist parties whose support could cost him dearly.

Two months after an inconclusive general election resulted in a hung parliament, Spain’s protracted political horse-trading has delivered a first, highly expected verdict: there will be no conservative government led by Alberto Nunez-Feijoo – at least not in this legislature.

On Friday, the leader of the right-wing Popular Party (PP) conceded defeat in his second attempt to win the backing of Spain’s Congress of Deputies, the lower house of parliament, falling short of the 176 seats required for a majority.

Feijoo’s failure stems from his controversial alliance with the far-right Vox party, which has effectively alienated all other parties. It sets in motion a two-month countdown to new elections, the country’s sixth in eight years.

That is, unless the country’s interim leader Pedro Sanchez succeeds in his own attempt to reach the 176-seat threshold over the coming weeks.

Sanchez, 51, came second in the July 23 vote, his Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) trailing the PP by a narrower-than-expected 1.4 percentage points. Sometime next week, King Felipe VI is expected to task him with forming a government, although the date for a new investiture vote has yet to be set.

“The Socialists are likely to aim for a vote during the week of October 10-16,” said Barbara Loyer, a professor and Spain expert at Paris-8 University. “The investiture must take place before November 27, barring which Spanish voters will head back to the polls on January 14.”

A ‘clean slate’ for Puigdemont?

After repeated elections, political instability and the complexities of coalition-building have become recurrent topics of discussion in the EU’s fourth-largest economy.

“It’s all you hear about – in the press, on television or from people on the street,” said Jean-Marc Sanchez, a French-Spanish lawyer and keen observer of Spanish politics, speaking from Barcelona – where Catalan separatists hold the keys to power in Madrid.

The fragmented parliament resulting from the July 23 election has left Sanchez and his left-wing allies 24 seats short of a majority, meaning the Socialist leader needs the support of all but one of the 25 lawmakers representing Catalan and Basque nationalist parties.

“Sanchez is in a delicate position: he needs the support of all separatist parties since he is a long shot from having a majority alone,” said Maria Elisa Alonso, a political analyst at the University of Lorraine in eastern France who specialises in Spanish politics.

The PSOE leader, who has a track record of brokering compromise and holding together unwieldy alliances, can point to a recent precedent to bolster his case.

On August 17, his candidate for parliament speaker Francina Armengol garnered the support of 178 lawmakers in the lower-house Congress. They included seven MPs from United for Catalonia (JxCat), representing the most hardline separatists in Catalan politics.

JxCat’s figurehead is none other than Carles Puigdemont, the exiled leader of a botched Catalan independence drive in 2017 that has poisoned Spanish politics ever since.

Carles Puigdemont has been in exile in Brussels since leading a failed bid to win independence for Catalonia. © Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution over his illegal independence referendum, has made his support conditional on Sanchez granting an amnesty and “an end to all legal proceedings” against Catalan separatists. Meanwhile, the left-wing ERC, another Catalan separatist party, has asked for a new referendum on self-determination – a legal one, this time – in exchange for its backing.

“ERC leaders who were convicted over the 2017 independence bid have already been pardoned (by Sanchez) and released, whereas the JxCat fugitives have their own fate on the line,” said Loyer. “A general amnesty would wipe the slate clean for everybody.”

Such demands have prompted a barrage of protests from across the political spectrum, including from prominent members of Sanchez’s own party.

“We cannot let ourselves be blackmailed,” said Felipe Gonzalez, the former Socialist prime minister who governed Spain in the 1980s and 90s. “We told voters on July 23 that there was no room for amnesty under our Constitution,” added Emiliano Garcia-Page, PSOE’s president of the Castilla-La Mancha region south of Madrid, flagging the risk of a voter backlash.

A risky balancing act

Sanchez is now caught between two fires as he attempts to win over separatist lawmakers without alienating others in his own camp.

“He will have to convince voters and his lawmakers that the amnesty that was impossible – and unconstitutional – only a few months ago is now somehow possible,” said Alonso, stressing that Sanchez has “very little wiggle room”.

As he campaigned in the run-up to the July vote, Spain’s interim prime minister clearly stated that “amnesty is incompatible with the Constitution”. He will have to strike a more conciliatory tone if he is to sway the separatist camp – a feat he has repeatedly pulled off in the past.

“Sanchez is something of a whiz when it comes to semantic pirouettes, portraying seemingly impossible moves in a good light,” said Loyer. She noted that the Socialist leader studiously avoids the word “amnesty”, opting instead to “dejudicialise” the tussle between Barcelona and Madrid.  

Since coming to power in 2018, a year after Catalonia’s failed independence push, Sanchez has sought to ease the country’s chronic separatist tensions. He has resumed talks with separatist parties, pardoned nine of their leaders, and reformed Spain’s sedition law to reduce prison sentences.

The PSOE leader has denied the reforms are a concession to secessionists, but critics on the right have blasted such moves as cynical ploys to hang on to power.

“Sanchez always turns his coat the right way round, he’s the great survivor of Spanish politics,” said Jean-Marc Sanchez, the French-Spanish lawyer. “He’ll do anything to remain in power.”

With analysts pointing to a January election as the likeliest outcome, the prime minister’s latest attempt to pull off a majority in parliament could carry a high political cost. As Alonso warned, “voters may seek to punish him at the polls should he propose an amnesty” for the likes of Puigdemont.

While new elections would prolong the political impasse, Spain remains better equipped than other countries to cope with gridlock in the capital, Loyer cautioned.

“One has to bear in mind that Spain is a highly decentralised country, with autonomous regions wielding a lot of power,” she explained. “Like in Belgium, a large part of day-to-day affairs can carry on unimpeded, even when the central government is in crisis.”

This article was translated from the original in French.

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Spain election repeat more likely after expat vote count

Spain’s already complicated electoral landscape just got a lot more complex.

On Saturday, the count of the 233,688 ballots deposited by Spaniards living abroad — which are tallied five days after the in-person vote is held — led to the redistribution of seats in the Spanish parliament. As a result, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialist Party lost one of the spots it was allocated in Madrid, which will now go to the center-right Popular Party.

The Popular Party is now set to have 137 MPs in the next legislature; together with the far-right Vox party’s 33 MPs and the single MP belonging to the affiliated Navarrese People’s Union (UPN), the right-wing bloc is set to control at least 171 seats the same number as Sánchez and his preferred partners. Should the Canarian Coalition revise its stated position, which is against backing any government that includes Vox, the conservative bloc could add another seat to its tally.

Those numbers do not improve conservative leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo’s chances of becoming prime minister. Even with an additional seat under Popular Party control, he still does not have enough support to overcome the crucial simple majority vote that a candidate must win in parliament in order to form a government.

But with the technical tie created by the reallocation of seats, Prime Minister Sánchez’s already narrow path to victory has become much more precarious, making the possibility of new elections in Spain more likely.

Prior to the loss of the seat in Madrid, Sánchez’s options for remaining Spain’s head of government involved persuading nationalist and separatist MPs to back a left-wing coalition government formed by his Socialist Party and the left-wing Sumar group. The combined forces of those parties and the 153 Socialist and Sumar MPs would have enabled Sánchez to count on 172 favorable votes, slightly more than the 170 the right-wing bloc was projected to control. As long as he convinced the Catalan separatist Junts party to abstain, Sánchez would have had more yeas than nays and been able to form a new government.

But now, with only 171 votes in its favor, the left-wing bloc will be facing at least an equal number of right-wing MPs capable of rejecting Sánchez’s bid to remain Spain’s prime minister. Getting Junts to abstain is no longer enough — Sánchez will need one or potentially two of the separatist party’s MPs to vote in his favor.

A hard circle to square

If getting Junts to abstain was already unlikely, getting the party to explicitly back the Socialist candidate seems virtually unthinkable right now.

Since 2017 the party’s founder, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, has been pursued by the Spain’s judiciary for his role in the Catalan independence referendum. As a member of the European Parliament, Puigdemont has been able to sidestep Madrid’s efforts to extradite him from Belgium, where he lives in self-imposed exile. But in June a top EU court stripped him of his immunity and just days ago Spanish prosecutors called for a new warrant to be issued for his arrest.

Earlier this week Junts said that it would only negotiate with Sánchez if he agrees to declare a blanket amnesty for everyone involved in the 2017 referendum and commits to holding a Catalan independence vote.

“The party that needs our support will have to be the one to make the effort,” said incumbent Junts MP Míriam Nogueras. “These negotiations need to be held from one nation to another … Things are not going to be as they have always been.”

Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister María Jesús Montero was quick to reject both demands, saying on Tuesday that the Socialist Party could only negotiate “within the margins of legality set out within the Spanish constitution.”

SPAIN NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Holding new national elections would almost certainly hurt separatist parties. With the exception of Basque group EH Bildu, all of them lost seats in last Sunday’s vote, and they’re likely to lose even more support if they force electors to go back to the polls in December or January.

On Saturday, Raquel Sans, spokesperson for the Republican Left of Catalonia party, admitted that her group had begun to hold discreet talks with Junts with the goal of forging “strategic unity” among Catalan separatists and avoiding repeat elections that “are not in the interest of the public.”

The tie between the two blocs may allow conservative leader Feijóo to press Spain’s King Felipe VI to name him as his candidate to be the next prime minister when parliament is reconvened next month.

Although there is no chance that Feijóo will be able to win the required support from fellow MPs, a failed bid in parliament will allow him to momentarily quiet the dissenters in his ranks who have been calling for him to step down in the aftermath of last Sunday’s result, in which the Popular Party won the most votes in the election but failed to secure the seats needed to form a government.

There is still the possibility, however, that enough party leaders will tell the king that they back Sánchez’s bid and that he has a viable path to form a coalition government. While the now-caretaker prime minister is keeping a low-profile this week, Socialist Party representatives are said to be hard at work, holding informal chats with partners with the objective of stitching up that support in the coming weeks.

Regardless of whether the candidate is Feijóo or Sánchez, the moment one of them fails their first investiture vote, a two-month deadline will begin counting down, at the end of which the Spanish constitution dictates that the king must dissolve parliament and call new elections. That new vote must be held 54 days after the legislature concludes, so if no deal is struck in the coming months, Spaniards would go to the polls again at the end of this year or, more likely, at the beginning of 2024.



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Spain: both parties fail to reach absolute majority needed to form government

Spain appears headed for political gridlock after Sunday’s inconclusive national elections left parties on both the right and left without a clear path toward forging a new government.

The conservative Popular Party won the elections, but it fell short of its hopes of scoring a much bigger victory and forcing the removal of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Instead, the party led by candidate Alberto Núñez Feijóo performed below the expectations of most campaign polls.

Even though Sánchez’s Socialists finished second, they and their allied parties celebrated the outcome as a victory since their combined forces gained slightly more seats than the PP and the far-right. The bloc that could likely support Sánchez totaled 172 seats; the right bloc behind Feijóo, 170.

“It was a Pyrrhic victory for the Popular Party, which is unable to form a government,” said political analyst Verónica Fumanal, adding the conservatives will now have to reach out to the far-right, and even then it won’t be enough. “I see a deadlock scenario in the Parliament.”

The closer-than-expected outcome was likely to produce weeks of political jockeying and uncertainty over the country’s future leadership. The next prime minister only would be voted on once lawmakers are installed in the new Congress of Deputies.

But the chances of Sánchez picking up the support of 176 lawmakers — the absolute majority in the Madrid-based Lower House of Parliament — needed to form a government are not great either. The divided results have made the hardline Catalan separatist party Junts (Together) emerge as Sánchez’s potential kingmaker. If Junts asks for a referendum on independence for northeast Catalonia, that would likely be far too costly a price for Sánchez to pay.

“We won’t make Pedro Sánchez PM in exchange for nothing,” Míriam Nogueras of Junts said after the results left her party holding the keys to power.

With 98% of votes counted, PP is on track for 136 seats. Even with the 33 seats that the far-right Vox is poised to get and the one seat going to an allied party, the PP would still be seven seats from the absolute majority.

The Socialists are set to take 122 seats, two more than they had. But Sánchez can likely call on the 31 seats of its junior coalition partner Sumar (Joining Forces) and several smaller forces to at least total more than the sum of the right-wing parties.

Spain and all the citizens who have voted have made themselves clear. The backward-looking bloc that wanted to undo all that we have done has failed,” Sánchez told a jubilant crowd gathered at Socialists’ headquarters in Madrid.

After his party took a beating in regional and local elections in May, Sánchez could have waited until December to face a national vote. Instead, he stunned his rivals by moving up the vote in hopes of gaining a bigger boost from his supporters.

Even if this goes to a new ballot, Sánchez can add this election night to yet another comeback in his career that has been built around beating the odds. The 51-year-old Sánchez had to mount a mutiny among rank-and-file Socialists to return to heading his party before he won Spain’s only no-confidence vote to oust his PP predecessor in 2018.

But Feijóo would probably trade spots with his rival if he could.

Feijóo claimed his right to form a government as the most voted party in the election, adding he was “proud” of what his party’s first national election victory since 2016.

“We have won the elections, it corresponds to us to form a government like it has always happened in Spanish democracy,” he said, addressing a crowd aflutter with Spanish flags.

Feijóo focused the PP’s campaign not on what he would do as prime minister, but rather as an attack on what he called the last of trustworthiness of Sánchez. The strategy failed. The Socialists and other leftist parties seem to have motivated their voters by drumming up fear of having the anti-feminist, ultra-nationalist Vox in power as a junior member of a possible coalition with the PP.

A PP-Vox government would have meant another EU member has moved firmly to the right, a trend seen recently in Sweden, Finland and Italy. Countries such as Germany and France are concerned about what such a shift would portend for EU immigration and climate policies.

Vox, which had hoped to force its way into power much as other far-right parties have done in other European countries, lost 19 seats from four years earlier. 

Vox leader Santiago Abascal said that the Socialists’ results were “bad news for Spaniards.”

“Pedro Sánchez, despite losing the elections, can block (Feijóo’s) investiture and, even worse, Pedro Sánchez could even be invested with the support of communism, the coup-seeking separatism and terrorism, all of whom will now have more leverage in the blackmail than in his previous term,” he said.


Yet it seems that the specter of the far-right taking a seat in government, albeit as a junior member to the PP, for the first time since the 20th-century dictatorship of Francisco Franco had proved to be key to the left’s resurgence.

Feijóo had tried to distance his PP from Vox during the campaign, refusing to say that a national coalition was a possibility. But Sánchez, in moving up the election, made the campaign coincide with the PP and Vox striking deals to govern together in several town halls and regional governments following the May ballots.

Even though Feijóo had pledged he would maintain his party’s commitment to fighting gender violence, Vox campaigned on rolling back gender violence laws. And they both agree on wanting to repeal a new transgender rights law and a democratic memory law that seeks to help families wanting to unearth the thousands of victims of Franco’s regime still missing in mass graves.

“PP has been a victim of its expectations, and the Socialists have been able to capitalize on the fear of the arrival of Vox. Bringing forward the elections has turned out to be the right decision for Pedro Sánchez,” said Manuel Mostaza, director of Public Policy at Spanish consultancy firm Atrevia.

Spain’s new Parliament will meet in a month. King Felipe VI then appoints one of the party leaders to submit him or herself to a parliamentary vote to form a new government. Lawmakers have a maximum period of three months to reach an agreement. Otherwise, new elections would be triggered.

The election took place at the height of summer, with millions of voters likely to be vacationing away from their regular polling places. However, postal voting requests soared.

Coming on the tail of a month of heat waves, temperatures were expected to average above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), or 5 to 10 degrees Celsius above normal in many parts of the country. Authorities distributed fans to many of the stations. 

“We have the heat, but the right to exercise our vote freely is stronger than the heat,” said Rosa María Valladolid-Prieto, 79, in Barcelona.

(AP)

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Polls close in Spain snap election that could see return of right wing to power

The majority of polls closed Sunday in a general election that could make Spain the latest European Union member to swing to the political right.

Polls in Spain’s mainland and the Balearic Islands closed at 6:00 p.m. GMT. Polls on the Canary Islands remained open one more hour due to the archipelago falling in a different time zone. Once they close, the first results from Sunday’s election are expected to come out.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is trying to win a third consecutive national election since taking power in 2018. But his Socialists and the other party in his leftist coalition took a beating in regional and local elections in May.


 

The mainstream conservative Popular Party led most polling during the campaign and is hoping that its first national victory since 2016 could let candidate Alberto Núñez Feijóo unseat Sánchez. But it may need the help of the far-right Vox party to do so.

 

Such a coalition would return a far-right force to the Spanish government for the first time since the country transitioned to democracy in the late 1970s following the nearly 40-year rule of dictator Francisco Franco.

Voters braved soaring summer temperatures to cast ballots in the election for 350 members of the lower house of Parliament. Near-final results were expected at midnight.

Read moreSpanish PM Sanchez pins snap election hopes on ‘fear of far right’

A PP-Vox government would mean another EU member has moved firmly to the right, a trend seen recently in Sweden, Finland and Italy. Countries such as Germany and France are concerned by what such a shift would portend for EU immigration and climate policies.

Spain’s two main leftist parties are pro-EU participation. On the right, the PP, led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, is also in favor of the EU. Vox, headed by Santiago Abascal, is opposed to EU interference in Spain’s affairs.

The election comes as Spain holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Sánchez had hoped to use the six-month term to showcase the advances his government had made. An election defeat for Sánchez could see the PP taking over the EU presidency reins.

Sánchez was one of the first to vote, casting his ballot in a polling station in Madrid.

Commenting later on the large number of foreign media covering the election, he said: “This means that what happens today is going to be very important not just for us but also for Europe and I think that should also make us reflect.”

“I don’t want to say I’m optimistic or not. I have good vibrations,” Sánchez added.

The Socialists and a new movement called Sumar that brings together 15 small leftist parties for the first time hope to pull off an upset victory. Sumar is led by second Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz, the only woman among the top four candidates.

Díaz called for everyone to vote, recalling that the freedom to vote didn’t always exist in Spain.

“A lot is at risk,” said Diáz after voting. “For people of my generation, they are the most important elections.”

At stake is “waking up tomorrow with more rights, more democracy and more freedom.”

The Interior Ministry said voter turnout at 6:00 p.m. local time stood at 53%, compared to 56% at the same point in the the country’s last national election, in November 2019.

The election was taking place at the height of summer, with millions of voters likely to be vacationing away from their regular polling places. However, postal voting requests soared before Sunday.

With no party expected to garner an absolute majority, the choice is basically between another leftist coalition and a partnership of the right and the far right.

For poll favorite Feijóo, “It is clear that many things are in play, what model of country we want, to have a solid and strong government.”

Vox’s Abascal said he hoped for “a massive mobilization (of voters) that will allow Spain to change direction.”

Alejandro Bleda, 45, did not say who he voted for but indicated that he was backing the leftist parties. “Given the polarization in this country, it’s to vote either for 50 years of backwardness or for progress,” he said.

The main issues at stake

are “a lot of freedoms, social rights, public health and education,” Bleda said after voting in the Palacio de Valdés public school polling station in central Madrid with his wife and young boy.

Voters are to elect 350 members to the lower house of Parliament and 208 members to the Senate.

Carmen Acero, 62, who voted for the Popular Party, compared Sánchez to Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and said she voted because “to continue with Pedro Sánchez is hell.”

Acero, who sported a Spanish flag on her phone, accused Sánchez of being an “assassin” for allying with the small Basque regional party Bildu, which includes some former members of the now-defunct armed separatist group, ETA.

She identified “the unity of Spain, employment and security” as among her main concerns.

The government said that all polling stations were running as normal.

A fire in a tunnel forced the suspension of all trains entering and leaving the eastern city of Valencia, indicating many people there might not make it to their voting station.

Coming on the tail of a month of heat waves, temperatures are expected to average above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and to rise between 5 and 10 degrees Celsius above normal in many parts of the country Sunday. Authorities distributed fans to many of the stations.

“We have the heat, but the right to exercise our vote freely is stronger than the heat,” said Rosa Maria Valladolid-Prieto, 79, in Barcelona.

Sánchez’s government has steered Spain through the COVID-19 pandemic and dealt with an inflation-driven economic downturn made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But his dependency on fringe parties to keep his minority coalition afloat, including separatist forces from Catalonia and the Basque Country, and his passing of a slew of liberal-minded laws may cost him his job.

The right-wing parties dislike everything about Sánchez, saying he has betrayed and ruined Spain. They vow to roll back dozens of his laws, many of which have benefited millions of citizens and thousands of companies.

(AP)

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You’re up, Joe: Europe awaits Biden’s nod on next NATO chief

Europe is waiting for white smoke from Washington. 

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will visit the White House on Tuesday, part of a trip that could determine whether he stays on at the helm of the Western military alliance or if the U.S. will back a new candidate. 

For months now, Europe has been locked in an endless parlor game over who might replace Stoltenberg, who is slated to leave his already-extended term in September after nearly 10 years at the helm.

Candidates have risen, fallen and risen again, while some desired successors have repeatedly proclaimed themselves not interested. Diplomats at NATO headquarters in Brussels will put forth one theory, only to offer a different one in the next sentence.

Throughout it all, the U.S. has stayed noticeably mum on the subject, merely indicating President Joe Biden hasn’t settled on a candidate and effusively praising Stoltenberg’s work. Yet Biden can’t sit on the fence forever. While the NATO chief is technically chosen by consensus, the White House’s endorsement carries heavy weight.

The foot-dragging has left NATO in limbo: while some members say it’s high time for a fresh face, the NATO job — traditionally reserved for a European — has become highly sensitive. There are few senior European leaders who are both available and can win the backing of all 31 alliance members for the high-profile post. 

The result is that all eyes have turned to Washington as the clock ticks down to NATO’s annual summit in July — a sort of deadline for the alliance to make a decision on its next (or extended) leader. 

“I would not be 100 percent sure that the list is closed,” said one senior diplomat from Central Europe, who like others was granted anonymity to discuss alliance dynamics. “There might be,” the diplomat added, “a last-minute extension initiative.”  

Shadow contest

Diplomats are divided on what will happen in the NATO leadership sweepstakes. 

While many candidates still insist they are not in the running — and Stoltenberg has repeatedly said he plans to go home to Norway, where he was prime minister — all options appear to remain on the table.  

In recent days, the two possible contenders mentioned most often in diplomatic circles are Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.

Frederiksen met with Biden at the White House last week, turbocharging speculation about her future. As a female leader from a European Union country that is a strong Ukraine supporter but not a full-on hawk, the Danish leader checks off many boxes for some of the alliance’s most influential members. 

Yet speaking to reporters in Washington, she insisted, “I am not a candidate for any other job than the one I have now, and this has not changed after my meeting with the U.S. president.” 

In NATO circles, however, the narrative is different. Four European diplomats said Frederiksen’s name is still circulating as a serious contender for the post. 

Still, Frederiksen faces challenges: Denmark already had the top NATO job less than a decade ago. And not everyone is totally enthusiastic. 

“The Turks might want to block the Danish candidate,” said the senior Central European diplomat. “There is some distance to this idea (not to Frederiksen personally) also elsewhere in the east and in the south, and some of those countries might even join a potential blockade.”

Turkey summoned the Danish envoy in Ankara earlier this year after a far-right group burned a Quran and Turkish flag in Copenhagen. More broadly, the Turkish government has taken issue with a number of northern European countries and is still blocking Sweden’s NATO accession bid.

Asked about possible opposition to the Danish leader from Ankara, however, a Turkish official said: “It is gossip, period. We have never been asked about her candidacy!”

Britain’s Wallace, on the other hand, has openly expressed interest in the NATO job. 

But he faces an uphill battle. Many allies would prefer to see a former head of government in the role. And some EU capitals have signaled they would oppose a non-EU candidate. 

Asked last week if it’s time for a British secretary-general, Biden was lukewarm. 

“Maybe. That remains to be seen,” the president said. “We’re going to have to get a consensus within NATO to see that happen. They have a candidate who’s a very qualified individual. But we’re going to have — we have a lot of discussion, not between us, but in NATO, to determine what the outcome of that will be.” 

A number of other names — including Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and Spanish leader Pedro Sánchez — are still occasionally mentioned, although less frequently. Sánchez, for his part, could soon be in the market for a new job as he faces a tough election in July. 

Some diplomats simply aren’t crazy about any of the leading options.

“I don’t feel it,” said a senior NATO diplomat, also speaking anonymously to discuss internal deliberations. The diplomat argued the “most likely” scenario is yet another short extension for Stoltenberg and a need to then “refresh” the list of candidates. 

The senior diplomat from Central Europe argued that “the EU core” — some of the bloc’s most influential capitals — might be in favor of an extension that would sync up the NATO chief talks with the EU’s upcoming leadership reshuffle after the EU’s June 2024 elections. Combining the two could open the door to more political horse trading. 

But asked last month about his future, Stoltenberg said: “I have made it clear that I have no other plans than to leave this fall. I will already have been almost twice as long as originally planned.”

Others insisted they remained upbeat about the names on the table. 

Both Frederiksen and Wallace, said one senior northern European diplomat, “seem well qualified.” 

A senior diplomat from Eastern Europe bet on a new NATO chief soon. 

“I think,” the diplomat said, “we are moving closer to the replacement than extension.”

Eli Stokols contributed reporting.



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