At least 40,000 people gathered in Madrid on Sunday to protest a possible amnesty for people who took part in Catalonia’s failed independence campaign six years ago, which plunged Spain in its worst political crisis in decades.
The controversial issue of an amnesty arose after July’s inconclusive general elections. The conservative Popular Party (PP) finished first, defeating the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), but falling short of an overall majority.
Despite its victory, the PP, led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, is unlikely to gain the parliamentary support needed to form a new government in a congressional vote this week.
The figures tend to favor the PSOE, led by interim Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. But to have a chance of forming a new administration, Sánchez will need to secure the support of the Catalan independence party, led by former Catalan regional president Carles Puigdemont. Puigdemont fled Spain six years ago to avoid arrest for his role in organizing the unilateral and illegal campaign for independence.
Puigdemont insisted his support would be conditional on granting amnesty to him and hundreds of other Catalans wanted by Spanish justice for their involvement in the secession attempt.
Sánchez – who two years ago pardoned nine Catalan independence leaders convicted for their secessionist efforts – refused to rule anything out. But the PP took advantage of the possibility of an amnesty to rally its supporters and present the leader of the PSOE as a coward, indebted to the Catalan separatists and determined to stay in power.
The PP, which organized Sunday’s rally, estimated attendance at 60,000 people, while the central government delegation in Madrid said it attracted 40,000 people.
In his speech to the crowd, Feijóo accused Sánchez of a “total lack of moral and political integrity” and of degrading Spanish democracy.
Feijóo said: “The left sees pardons as coexistence, amnesty as normalization and defeat as victory. Don’t call us stupid Spaniards, because we are not. If voters were forced to return to the polls for new elections early next year, he said, Sánchez would bear the responsibility.
Referring to this week’s congressional vote, Feijóo said: “I will defend the fact that Spain is a democracy made up of free and equal people, even if the price to pay is not to be prime minister. ” He added: “I will either be Prime Minister or I will not, but what will remain is a free, equal and dignified Spain. Long live Spain.
Sánchez, who criticized the PP earlier this week for what he called “apocalyptic prophecies,” was careful to avoid any explicit mention of an amnesty.
Speaking in Catalonia on Sunday, the interim prime minister highlighted his commitment to equality, adding that all the social, economic and environmental progress made by his administration would be threatened by a PP government that would have to count on the support of the extreme right. The Vox party to rule Spain.
The PP, which once repudiated Vox as “a party of fear, rage, resentment and revenge”, has reversed its objections and formed a number of municipal and regional coalitions with the party in recent years.
Sánchez said on Sunday: “If there is an equality that is fractured, that is in danger, it is the equality between men and women that is in danger because of the agreements between the PP and Vox.”