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Spain’s incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is on track to secure a new term in office in a parliamentary vote on Thursday, as anger grows over an amnesty deal for Catalan separatists that has become the price of the socialist leader’s stay in power.
The speaker of Spain’s House of Representatives said a two-day process leading to Sánchez’s expected confirmation would begin on Wednesday, nearly four months after an inconclusive election in July in which his party came second.
Late Monday, the Socialists released the official text of an amnesty law for Catalan separatists, a prerequisite for Sánchez to get the votes from smaller parties he needs to achieve a 176-seat majority.
The amnesty ends prosecutions, prison sentences and other punishments faced by independence advocates and advocates who supported an attempt by Catalonia to break away from Spain that culminated in a referendum in 2017.
The plan sparked outrage among conservatives and traditionalists in the Socialist Party. They accuse Sánchez of cynically granting special treatment to separatists and destroying the rule of law in the process.
The amnesty is expected to benefit more than 500 people, including criminals and others who face administrative punishments such as being banned from holding public office, an official from the Catalan independence movement said.
The most prominent beneficiary is expected to be Carles Puigdemont, leader of the hardline Together for Catalonia party, who led the push for an illegal referendum and a futile declaration of independence six years ago. Since then he has lived in Belgium as a refugee from the Spanish justice system.
The proposed amnesty was condemned by prosecutors, judges, lawyers, police and Spain’s main business lobby, the CEOE. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities across Spain on Sunday to protest against the plan.
Fears that the amnesty law will give Parliament the opportunity to interfere in judicial decisions led to an extraordinary statement from Spain’s Supreme Court on Monday. Its government chamber stressed the need to “ensure the independence of the judiciary from all institutions” and underlined the duty of courts to ensure “equality in the application of the law.”
The wording of the amnesty law states that it covers not only people who helped organize the 2017 referendum, but also those who committed crimes that have a “deep connection” with the drive for independence, including violations of the public order and the misuse of public funds. Intentional acts that “result in death” are expressly excluded.
Lawyers were surprised by the period covered by the amnesty law, which stretched from the first day of 2012 – the year an pro-independence majority took control of the Catalan regional parliament – to November 13, 2023.
Who benefits from the amnesty will be decided by judges on a case-by-case basis, with prosecutors and individuals able to advocate for their crimes themselves to be expunged.
José Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said the publication of the law would only increase anger over the amnesty plan.
“Wednesday and Thursday will be two very tense days in Parliament. It’s going to be very hard. I think we’re going to hear terrible things and that will logically wake people up.”