Spanish lawmakers on Tuesday rejected a deeply divisive Catalan amnesty bill with the hardline separatist party that demanded it voting against it on the grounds it did not go far enough.
The bill will now be sent back to a parliamentary commission in a major setback for Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez that highlights the fragility of his parliamentary support.
The bill was rejected by 179 votes to 171 in the 350-seat parliament where Sanchez’s left-wing minority government is dependent on a patchwork of support to pass legislation.
The law will apply to those wanted by the justice system over the 2017 Catalan independence bid, first and foremost the exiled leader of the hardline separatist JxCat party, Carles Puigdemont.
He was Catalan regional leader in 2017 and fled to Belgium to avoid prosecution.
Although JxCat had demanded the law in exchange for its parliamentary support to secure Sanchez another term in office, it tipped the balance by voting against the bill on Tuesday after its last-minute amendments were rejected.
“This text is a good starting point.. but it has holes that Spain’s prejudiced justice system can use to leave the amnesty in tatters,” JxCat lawmaker Miriam Nogueras told lawmakers in the debate.
“We are not terrorists,” she said.
The amendments sought to rule out the exclusion of Puigdemont, who is facing several legal probes over the independence bid.
– ‘Rolling out the red carpet’ –
For many on the Spanish right, Puigdemont is seen as public enemy number one.
“This law… is a joke and its only purpose is to keep Sanchez in power,” said right-wing opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo ahead of the vote.
“Sanchez wanted to bring Puigdemont to justice and now they are rolling out the red carpet for him. He left Spain in the boot of a car and now he’ll return in Sanchez’s Falcon,” he jeered, referring to the prime minister’s private plane.
Even if the bill eventually passes, it will face numerous hurdles before becoming law.
Feijoo’s Popular Party (PP) has vowed to slow the bill’s passage through the Senate, where it holds an absolute majority.
“It doesn’t matter whether the bill passes or not… We are going to appeal against it in every possible way and we’re going to ask for EU protection,” Feijoo said.
The PP has already modified the procedural rules in the upper chamber and will request opinions and reports before amending it and sending it back to MPs for a final vote.
The measure has also drawn fierce opposition from some members of the judiciary and is facing legal challenges that could jeopardise its future.
– Legal challenges –
On Monday, a magistrate extended his probe into whether Puigdemont had sought Russian support for a Catalan state, citing evidence of “close personal relationships” between his inner circle and Russians diplomats and spies.
According to El Pais, the probe could end in treason charges against Puigdemont that would fall outside the amnesty law.
A second probe is focused on Democratic Tsunami, a secretive protest group that blockaded Barcelona airport in October 2019 in protest after Spain jailed nine Catalan separatist leaders over the failed independence bid.
In November, the investigating magistrate said Puigdemont had a “leadership” role within Democratic Tsunami, saying that the charges he faces “could be classified… as terrorism”.
Last week, the Socialists were forced to amend the bill to ensure it would still apply to those accused of “terrorism” as long as it didn’t involve “a serious violation of human rights”.