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Spanish parliament debates Sanchez's left-wing coalition plan

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Spanish parliament debates Sanchez's left-wing coalition plan
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PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP
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Spain's coalition saga continues. On Saturday, Spanish MPs debated whether to approve the proposal of interim PM Pedro Sanchez to form a left-wing coalition.

Sanchez and his Socialist Party have reached a deal with anti-austerity party United We Can, but the re-elected PM needs the support of several smaller parties if he hopes to gain parliamentary approval.

If approved, Sanchez's proposal would constitute the first coalition government since Spain returned to democracy in 1978 after years under the rule of long-time dictator Francisco Franco.

Wanted: a parliamentary majority

Sanchez needs an absolute majority of 176 votes in the first round of voting, set for Sunday, but is unlikely to get it as three Spanish right-wing parties have already announced they will vote against his proposal.

The Socialists are confident they will have the votes needed in a second vote on Tuesday, where the requirement is a simple majority (more votes for them than against).

Some 20 MPs have agreed to abstain in the vote, including the Catalan ERC party, which advocates for Catalonian independence. The ERC's support was put in doubt after Spain's National Electoral Board ruled against two leading Catalan separatists on Friday.

But Pere Aragones, the ERC deputy leader and the current vice president in the Catalan regional government, said on Saturday that the party would be sticking by its deal with the Socialists.

``"Those who thought that this operation by the electoral board would mean that ERC would become the unwitting ally of (the right wing) made a mistake,'' Aragones said.

Fierce debates

Saturday's debate in the Congress of Deputies was opened by a long speech by Sanchez, in which he laid out the priorities of his proposed government including public education, health and social services.

He also said that his party and ERC have agreed to start talks with the Catalan regional government to resolve the question of Catalonia's secession.

``"We have to get back to politics and get this conflict out of the courts,'' Sanchez told MPs in the parliament's 350-seat lower house. ``The law by itself is not enough. The law is the basic condition we must respect, but dialogue is the way forward.''

Right-wing parties have accused Sanchez of putting Spain's territorial integrity at risk by agreeing to talk with Catalonian separatists, where about half the population support Catalonian independence. Most Spaniards oppose secession.

Opposition leader Pablo Casado, of the conservative Popular Party, criticised Sanchez for his deals with United We Can and ERC.

``"You are bringing us a nightmare government. Above all for those Spaniards living in Catalonia,'' Casado told Sanchez.

Sanchez has said he would not agree to a referendum on Catalonia's out-right independence. Spain's top courts have said such a referendum would violate the Spanish Constitution.

The Socialists' deal with ERC however includes an agreement to submit a joint proposal for some kind of vote in Catalonia.

It is unclear what this joint proposal would cover, but the Socialists would probably want it to give more governing powers for Catalonia's regional administrations.

The Socialists received the most support of any party in the April vote but failed to strike a deal with United We Can. Sanchez was forced to call a second election for November that barely changed the distribution of power in parliament.

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