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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - MADRID — Spain's parliament on Tuesday confirmed Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez by a razor-thin margin as prime minister for another term at the helm of the country's first-ever coalition government since its return to democracy in the 1970s.
Sanchez, who has stayed on as a caretaker premier since inconclusive elections last year, won 167 votes in the 350-seat assembly compared to 165 against, with a decisive 18 abstentions by Catalan and Basque separatist lawmakers.
He plans to form a minority coalition government with hard-left party Podemos this time around, in what would be the first coalition government in Spain since the country returned to democracy following the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
On Sunday, Sanchez lost a first attempt after falling short of the required absolute majority of 176 seats in a first confidence vote in parliament.
Spain, the eurozone's fourth-largest economy, has been in political gridlock without a proper government for most of the past year after two inconclusive elections in April and November.
Sanchez's Socialists won the repeat Nov. 10 poll but were weakened, taking 120 seats — three fewer than in April — in an election which saw upstart far-right party Vox surge into third place.
Sanchez quickly struck a deal with Podemos, led by pony-tailed former university professor Pablo Iglesias, to form a coalition government despite having previously said that such a tie-up with the far-left party would keep him up at night.
The two parties are pledging to lift the minimum wage, raise taxes on high earners and large businesses, and repeal elements of Spain's controversial 2012 labor market reforms that made it easier to fire workers — measures which business leaders warn will hurt job creation.
With the two formations' combined total of 155 seats still falling short of a majority, Sanchez also secured the support of several smaller regional parties as well the abstention of Catalan separatist party ERC's 13 lawmakers and those of Basque separatist party Bildu's five MPs.
As part of his deal with the ERC, Sanchez agreed to open a formal dialogue with Catalonia's separatist regional government on the future of the wealthy northeastern region, and to then submit the results of the talks to Catalan voters.
The political situation in Catalonia remains in flux following a 2017 independence referendum which Madrid declared unconstitutional.
The Catalan independence push triggered Spain's most serious political crisis post-Franco.
Spain's center-right parties and Vox accused Sanchez of putting national unity at risk with his pact with the Catalan separatists.
"This government against Spain is the most radical of our history," the leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Pablo Casado, said Tuesday ahead of the vote.
He also accused Sanchez of forming a "Frankenstein government" made up of "communists" and "separatists" who "want to put an end to Spain", and warned that the minority government would not last the full four years.
But Sanchez said there was "no other option" than a Socialist-Podemos government, adding Spain could not go on without a proper administration.
"Without an elected government and parliament, it is obvious that our democracy suffers," he said.
Sanchez's tight margin for victory led Podemos lawmaker Aina Vidal, who is in severe pain with cancer and had to miss the weekend vote, to turn up for Tuesday's crucial vote despite her illness.
Several of her fellow lawmakers gave her a standing ovation when the session began.
Sanchez came to power in June 2018 after ousting his PP predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote, but he was forced to call elections in April after Catalan separatists including the ERC refused to back his draft budget.
"The political landscape remains tricky," ING analyst Steven Trypsteen said.
"The new government (is)... a minority government, the Catalan tensions could flare up again... and the fiscal situation makes it difficult to increase spending a lot." — AFP
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