Spanish lawmakers squash far-right's attempt to oust PM

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Vox party leader Santiago Abascal walks past Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, left and 2nd Deputy Prime Minister Pablo Iglesias during a parliamentary session in Madrid, Spain, Thursday Oct. 22, 2020. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is facing a no-confidence vote in parliament brought by the nation's far-right Vox party. (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Pool via AP)

MADRID – Spanish lawmakers on Thursday overwhelmingly rejected a no-confidence motion called by the far-right Vox party against Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his left-wing coalition over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The motion was rejected by 298 votes and backed only by the 52 lawmakers of Vox, which last year became the third-largest force in the 350-seat parliament.

Spain has reported 1 million confirmed infections — the highest number in Western Europe — and at least 34,000 deaths from COVID-19, although experts say the number is much higher since many cases were missed because of testing shortages and other problems.

Opposition leader Pablo Casado announced earlier Thursday that the 88 lawmakers of his conservative Popular Party (PP) would vote against Vox's motion, and lambasted the far-right party for “wasting everybody's time” with the debate as the country grapples with a resurgence of the virus.

“This motion is one more lie from Vox for Sánchez to remain in Moncloa,” Casado said in reference to the palace where the prime minister’s office is located. “Don’t mislead Spaniards, please.”

By choosing to vote against rather than abstaining, Casado cleared up the main question in the run-up to Thursday's vote in the fragmented Congress of Deputies.

The Popular Party has been very critical of Sánchez's minority government, but Vox’s recent rise has come at the expense of Spain’s traditional right-wing. Many analysts had seen Vox's motion as both an attempt to erode the Socialist-led coalition and a direct challenge to Casado, forcing the opposition leader to take a public stance on hot-button issues for the right-wing electorate.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal responded by saying that Casado's position was showing PP's true colors.

“It seems that today you have removed your mask and you have joined the brutal caricaturizing of Vox,” Abascal said.

Casado's move will also cause political ripples in some of the PP-controlled regions under agreements with a center-right party, Citizens, but with Vox's support. Among the immediate effects, Sánchez’s coalition offered to end the stalemate in negotiations with PP for renewing the Spanish judges’ governing body, while Vox announced that it would halt negotiations to pass a new budget in Andalusia, the southern and most populous of the country's regions.

One by one, parties from the left and right had lined up since Wednesday against the far-right's skepticism of the European Union and its promotion of Spanish nationalism and for taking positions against illegal migration or laws that protect women from abuse.

Pablo Iglesias, leader of the far-left United We Can party, which is part of the ruling coalition, told Casado that his speech distancing his party from Vox was “brilliant,” but came too late.

“You gave oxygen to the monster and the monster is now devouring you,” Iglesias said.