Spain elections: Feijóo launches doomed bid to lead country

<span>Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Two months after winning July’s general election but failing to secure a parliamentary majority, the leader of Spain’s conservative People’s party (PP) is launching an almost certainly doomed bid to become the country’s next prime minister.

Although the PP, led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, finished first in the snap election, it failed to win enough votes to form a government, taking 137 seats in Spain’s 350-seat congress. Despite the arithmetical challenge, King Felipe has asked the party to try to form a government during this week’s investiture session, which begins with a day of debate on Tuesday.

Even with the support of the far-right Vox party, which won 33 seats, and one vote each from the small Navarrese People’s Union and Canaries Coalition parties, Feijóo can muster only 172 votes. To become prime minister, he needs an absolute majority (176 votes out of 350) in a first vote, which will be held on Wednesday, or a simple majority – more yes votes than no votes – in a second vote to be held on Friday.

Feijóo is unlikely to win either vote, leaving the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE), led by the acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, best placed to form a government. But 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.

The PP has seized on the possibility of an amnesty to rally support and to portray the PSOE leader as craven, dependent on Catalan separatists and hellbent on remaining in office. Speaking at his party’s large, anti-amnesty protest in Madrid on Sunday, 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.

In his investiture address to MPs on Tuesday, Feijóo was adamant that he would not countenance any amnesty or steps towards Catalan self-determination, even if doing so cost him the opportunity to take office.

“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.”

Sánchez, who has been careful to avoid explicit mention of an amnesty, is confident that he can attract the 176 votes he needs to remain in Moncloa Palace. “[The PP] are demonstrating against a socialist government,” he told supporters in Catalonia on Sunday. “But I’m sorry – there’s going to be a socialist government.”

If, as expected, Feijóo fails in his bid to become prime minister, Sánchez will have two months 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.