June 18, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Spain’s conservative leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo sought to portray himself as a defender of democracy and the rule of law as he began an improbable bid for the premiership following July’s inconclusive election.

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In opening remarks to lawmakers in Madrid Tuesday to try to convince them to back him for the top job, Feijoo said a potential amnesty law for Catalan secessionist activists that could pave the way for acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to remain in office is unconstitutional. Sanchez has not publicly ruled out an amnesty, which is a condition demanded by Catalan separatists to back his bid to retain power.

“This is not legally or ethically acceptable because there is no democracy outside the constitution,” said Feijoo, whose People’s Party won the most votes in July’s ballot but is short of a parliamentary majority. “No end, not even the premiership, justifies the means,” he added.

Without the support of pro-independence Catalan and Basque parties in the 350-member parliament, Feijoo is expected to lose an initial vote Tuesday and a subsequent one Friday. That would give Sanchez a chance to secure a third term if he can persuade the hard-line separatist Catalan party Junts to back him.

In his speech Tuesday, Feijoo sketched out how a government under his leadership would differ to a Sanchez administration. He said that the Socialist prime minister had misled voters by not specifying that he would consider an amnesty for Catalan separatists involved in a failed 2017 secession attempt.

Feijoo vowed if elected to restore stiffer penalties for the misuse of public funds, which were eased by Sanchez last year to benefit Catalan separatist officials charged with that crime.

The center-right leader also said that Junts had made the same offer of support to him as to Sanchez, but that he was “not willing to pay the price.”

Feijoo, who ruled the region of Galicia for 13 years before taking over the PP last year, has made opposition to an amnesty a rallying cry for his supporters in an attempt to raise pressure on Sanchez.

His opposition, backed by far-right group Vox, could be damaging to Sanchez, who will likely have to rely again on separatist groups to approve legislation and annual budgets. Feijoo’s PP has an absolute majority in the Senate, which can can delay legislation for months.

If neither Feijoo or Sanchez wins a majority, a new general election will be called in January.

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