January 6, 2020 / 11:00 PM / 11 days ago

Spain's lawmakers likely to back Sanchez coalition in tight vote

MADRID, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Spanish lawmakers are expected to vote by the narrowest of margins on Tuesday to confirm Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez as head of a left-wing coalition government.

In a parliamentary session scheduled for 12 p.m. (1100 GMT) - the second vote in three days - Sanchez looks set to win the support of just enough legislators to form a cabinet and so break the country’s current political gridlock.

After two inconclusive general elections in 2019, Sanchez’s Socialist party has allied with far-left Unidas Podemos, though the two parties’ combined 155 seats are not enough for a majority in Spain’s highly fragmented 350-seat parliament.

In his first attempt on Sunday, Sanchez fell short of the absolute majority required to confirm him as prime minister in a first vote in parliament. Spanish law lowers the bar to a simple majority in a second vote held at least 48 hours after the first.

With the conservative People’s Party and far-right Vox - the second and third largest parties - refusing to back the coalition, victory for Sanchez hinges on the support of small regional parties that each control a handful of seats or, rather, their abstention.

On Sunday, Sanchez secured a majority of just one, with 166 “yes” votes against 165 “no”, while 18 legislators abstained.

Podemos legislator Aina Vidal, who was not present on Sunday for health reasons, said via her twitter account that she would vote on Tuesday, strengthening marginally Sanchez’s position.

To gain acquiescence from Catalonia’s largest separatist party, Esquerra Republica de Catalunya (ERC), Sanchez last week agreed to hold a dialogue over the future of Catalonia if he is confirmed. He agreed to submit the dialogue’s conclusions to Catalan voters.

Sanchez and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said they would push for tax increases on high-income earners and companies. The coalition also intends to roll back labour reforms passed by a previous conservative government.

Without a reliable majority in parliament, however, the coalition would likely struggle to pass legislation.

The previous minority government in Spain, also headed by Sanchez, was forced to throw in the towel after less than a year when Catalan separatists withdrew their support. (Reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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