Sanchez wins cliff-hanger Spain vote to form new government

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s parliament chose Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez to form a new government Tuesday, ending almost a year of political limbo for the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy.

Sánchez won a cliff-hanger confidence vote 167-165, with 18 abstentions. It was the slimmest victory for a prime minister candidate in decades.

His party will lead a leftist coalition with the left-wing United We Can party as junior partner.

Sánchez needed the votes or abstention promise of an array of smaller parties to get past. His supporters in parliament erupted into a standing ovation when the result of the vote was announced in the Chamber of Deputies.

The hair-line margin of victory has raised doubts about how long the coalition government will last, as its policies require regular parliamentary approval. A government term is normally four years.

Coalition governments are common in Europe, but it is Spain’s first since the country returned to democracy in 1978, three years after the death of long-time dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

“A progressive coalition is going to govern because that is what Spaniards decided,” Sánchez told the house before the vote.

Sánchez, 47, has been caretaker prime minister since early last year.

He is expected to sworn in Wednesday and hold his first Cabinet meeting of ministers Friday.

Sánchez’s Socialists won two consecutive general elections in 2019, but both times they failed to capture a parliamentary majority. That meant they couldn’t win the parliamentary confidence vote that is required before taking office.

In weeks of negotiations since the last election in November, Sánchez mustered enough support — or promises to abstain — from a handful of small regional parties to take power.

But Sanchez has been widely criticized for the deal he clinched with the regional Catalan ERC party for it to abstain in Tuesday’s vote. ERC, which holds 13 seats, is one of several groups that want Catalonia’s independence from Spain.

Opposition parties, most of them right-wing, have lambasted Sánchez for striking deals with parties intent on breaking up Spain, though Sanchez has insisted he won’t allow the wealthy region’s secession.

Pablo Casado, leader of the main opposition center-right Popular Party, described Sánchez as an “extremist” for putting the government in the hands of “terrorists and coup supporters” in references to the deals made with Basque and Catalan separatist parties to abstain in Tuesday’s vote.

The Catalan independence push has brought Spain’s most serious political crisis in decades.

The Socialists defend the deal with ERC, saying the Catalan crisis must be resolved through talks, something they have agreed to do with the ERC.

Sánchez tried to get elected in a first parliamentary confidence vote last Sunday, but he fell far short of the target of 176 votes. Under Spanish law, in the second round of voting Tuesday he needed only a simple majority — more votes for him than against him.

King Felipe VI asked Sánchez to try and form a government following the Nov. 10 ballot, when the Socialists got the most votes but only 120 seats in the 350-seat Chamber of Deputies, Spain’s parliament.

Sánchez and pony-tailed United We Can leader Pablo Iglesias say they want to raise minimum salaries, income tax for high earners and capital gains tax. They also vow to defend women’s and immigrants’ rights.

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Barry Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal.

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