A pointless debate? Vox’s second motion of no confidence against Prime Minister Sanchez reaches Congress

SPAIN’S sixth motion of no confidence debate since the return of democracy got underway on Tuesday, and proved to be as unusual and bizarre as political analysts had predicted

The attempt to oust Socialist Party Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was filed by the far-right Vox party, the second time that the group has tried to do so. 

But unlike in October 2020, when the candidate to replace Sanchez was Vox leader Santiago Abascal, this time the party opted for Ramon Tamames, a one-time leader of the Spanish Communist Party and now an 89-year-old professor. 

The two-day debate began with an attack by Abascal not just on the government, which is a coalition of the PSOE and leftist Unidas Podemos, but also on the leader of the main opposition Popular Party, Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, for not attending the session and for what he described as his political wavering. 

‘Spain needs a serious social-democratic party,’ the Vox leader said in reference to the PP. ‘If you want to occupy that space, say it out loud. You cannot move toward the PSOE and Vox at the same time, it’s not serious.’

A leaked speech

When it came time for Tamames to speak, there was not the expectation that there could have been. The entire text that he had prepared for the debate was leaked last week by online daily El Diario, so there was more interest among commentators as to whether any words had been changed as to the actual arguments he was putting forth. 

In the end, the economist opted for a shorter version of the text, which he did change on the fly as he read it out. 

Tamames looked frail on arrival in the chamber, using a stick to walk with and supporting himself on the shoulders of Abascal and an usher. His speech faltered too, and when he wound up his first intervention it appeared to be partly due to the effort it was requiring. 

Ramon Tamames during the debate on Tuesday in Congress.

‘Your government doesn’t respect the division of powers, as we can see by the way you have taken control of the justice system from the executive,’ Tamames charged against Sanchez. 

‘The entire government is supported by those who until recently supported violence and today want to do away with the monarchy,’ he continued, in reference to EH Bildu, a Basque party that supports the government on certain votes. 

The candidate also called for a change in electoral law in order to avoid the ‘over-representation’ of nationalist parties such as Bildu, and also claimed that the government ‘has an aversion to entrepreneurs’.

‘End the situation in Gibraltar’

Tamames also argued that the government needed to ‘end the situation in Gibraltar’, calling it the ‘only European colony that is left’. He said that it was intolerable that ‘there is money-laundering, that there is illegal smuggling’ in Gibraltar, claims that the British Overseas Territory regularly rejects. 

The candidate made clear that if he were to become prime minister, the only thing he would do is to call early elections for May, to coincide with the local and regional polls that will be taking place in that month.

As he did during Vox’s first motion of no confidence, Sanchez limited his responses to Tuesday morning, and will not take part in the rest of the debate. While the prime minister was scathing with his response to Santiago Abascal of Vox, he took a more measured tone when addressing Tamames. 

 ‘I don’t believe that this is the best idea you’ve had in your life, Mr Tamames, I’m sorry that that you are contributing to the whitewashing of Vox,’ the prime minister said.

Sanchez also used his speech to argue that the PP is getting closer to Vox with a view to forming a coalition government, should it fall short of a majority at the elections in December. 

Trying patience

During these debates, the prime minister can speak for as long as he likes. And Sanchez took advantage of this, making speeches that lasted for several hours in total. 

This tried the patience of Tamames ‘You can’t come here with a stack of 20 pieces of paper ready to talk about things that I haven’t said,’ he complained at one point, in reference to the fact that Sanchez was addressing points made in the leaked text, but that in the end Tamames failed to actually say during the debate. 

When it was his turn to speak again, Tamames had more criticism for the prime minister. ‘You spoke for an hour and 40 minutes, Mr Sanchez. In that time Asimov explained the Roman empire. You need to change the rules and put time limits in place,’ he said, in reference to the regulations in Congress covering such a debate.

As the candidate himself admitted during one of his first interventions, with only the 54 votes from the Vox lawmakers, in a 350-seat chamber, his bid to oust the prime minister and call a general election was doomed to fail from the outset. 

Barring any last-minute surprises, this is what will happen at the vote on Wednesday, no doubt leaving many deputies, analysts and voters wondering: what exactly was the point?

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