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Spanish parliament rejects budget, sets stage for likely early elections

Pierre-Philippe Marcou, AFP | Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez (L) and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Equality Carmen Calvo attend a debate on the government's 2019 budget during a parliament session in Madrid on February 13, 2019

Right-wing and Catalan separatist lawmakers on Wednesday rejected a draft 2019 budget, a move that could force Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to call early elections.

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A total of 191 lawmakers in the 350-member assembly voted in favour of amendments to block the budget.

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who came to power in June thanks in part to the support of 17 Catalan lawmakers in the national parliament and heads up a minority government, was depending on their votes to push his budget through. 

But the Catalan parties, unhappy with the government’s refusal to consider or discuss amongst other issues an independence referendum for their northeastern region, voted against it, as did the rightwing parties.

Sanchez’s socialist party holds only 84 seats in the 350-seat lower house.

“This is the second time a government has ever lost a budget vote in this way; the last time that a government lost a budget vote was the Felipe Gonzalez socialist government,” said FRANCE 24 correspondent Sarah Morris. “After it lost the budget, it had to call early elections and, just by coincidence, it was also the Catalan nationalist parties that voted against that budget.”

Indeed, Sanchez will announce on Friday whether he calls an early general election, a government spokesperson said.

The next national election is due mid-2020. Opinion polls show one outcome of snap elections could be a right-wing majority in parliament, including a newly-emerged far-right party.

Sanchez's socialists have already adopted a campaign-like tone, criticising conservatives and Catalonia separatists for blocking a budget that included many social spending measures.

"The right-wing in this country is trying to put a brake on the social progress of this budget and this government," Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said after the rejection.

Negotiations with the new separatist coalition that took power in the northeastern Catalonia region after the 2017 independence push broke down last week when Sanchez’s government refused to accept self-determination talks.

Poltical sources said on Wednesday it was not clear yet when a snap election would be announced, but April 14 and April 28 have been floated as possible dates.

Spanish stocks edged lower and Spain’s government bond yield spread over safer Germany widened after the vote.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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