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Spain’s acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez is on course to secure a new term in a parliamentary vote on Thursday as anger grows over an amnesty deal for Catalan separatists that has become the price for the Socialist leader to retain power.
The speaker of Spain’s Congress of Deputies said a two-day process leading to Sánchez’s expected confirmation would begin on Wednesday, almost four months after an inconclusive election in July in which his party finished second.
Late on Monday the Socialists published the official text of an amnesty law for Catalan separatists, which is a precondition for Sánchez to secure the votes he needs from smaller parties to reach a 176-seat majority.
The amnesty will end the prosecution, prison terms and other penalties facing pro-independence leaders and supporters who backed a bid by Catalonia to break away from Spain that culminated in a referendum in 2017.
The plan has sparked fury among conservatives and traditionalists in the Socialist party, who accuse Sánchez of cynically granting special treatment to separatists at the cost of trashing the rule of law.
The amnesty is likely to benefit more than 500 people, spanning those in criminal cases and others facing administrative penalties such as bans from public office, said one official in the Catalan independence movement.
Its most high-profile beneficiary is expected to be Carles Puigdemont, head of the hardline Together for Catalonia party, who six years ago led the push for an unlawful referendum and a futile declaration of independence. He has since been living in Belgium as a fugitive from Spanish justice.
The proposed amnesty has drawn condemnation from prosecutors, judges, lawyers, police officers and Spain’s main business lobby, the CEOE. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of cities across Spain in protest against the plan on Sunday.
Fears that the amnesty law is opening the way for parliament to interfere in court decisions prompted an extraordinary statement from Spain’s supreme court on Monday. Its government chamber emphasised the need to “guarantee judicial independence from all institutions” and underscored the courts’ duty to safeguard “equality in the application of the law”.
The text of the amnesty law says it will cover not only people who helped organise the referendum in 2017 but those who committed crimes with a “profound connection” to the independence bid, including public order offences and the misuse of public funds. It specifically excludes intentional acts “resulting in death”.
Lawyers were surprised by the period of time covered by the amnesty law, stretching from the first day of 2012 — the year when a pro-independence majority took control in the Catalan regional parliament — until November 13 2023.
Who benefits from the amnesty will be decided by judges on a case-by-case basis, with public prosecutors and the individuals themselves able to argue for their crimes to be erased.
José Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, said the publication of the law would only heighten anger over the amnesty plan.
“There’ll be two very tense days in parliament on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s going to be very rough. I think we’re going to hear terrible things and that, logically, is going to stir people up.”