Spain’s Sanchez Faces Unexpected Test in Snap Catalan Election

(Bloomberg) -- Catalonia’s regional government called a snap election almost a year ahead of time, setting the stage for an unexpected test for Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

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Regional President Pere Aragones announced the May 12 ballot after he failed to muster enough support in the legislature to pass a budget. Aragones leads a minority government — and while he had the backing of Sanchez’s Socialists to approve the measure, he failed to secure a majority.

Catalan politics has been a focal point of broader Spanish politics since the eastern region’s failed attempt to break away from Spain in 2017, triggering political upheaval that included the imprisonment and exile of several separatist leaders.

The election in May has ramifications for Sanchez. Not only is Spain’s second-largest region a stronghold for his Socialist party, but his fragile government relies heavily on support from two rival Catalan separatist parties in Madrid — Aragones’s left-leaning ERC and the right-leaning Junts per Catalunya.

Sanchez has made resolving the Catalan issue a priority for his government, with the passage of legislation relying on nationalist support. The dynamic was laid bare late last year when the premier agreed with Junts to pass an amnesty law for hundreds of activists facing charges for their involvement in the 2017 secession attempt.

The amnesty measure is expected to be approved in parliament Thursday following months of negotiations. While the legislation has been welcomed in Catalonia, where it benefits activists of both ERC and Junts, it has been a matter of deep contention in other parts of Spain.

The May election will serve to show whether the wager on the amnesty is benefiting the Socialists in Catalonia, or whether it will be the Catalan nationalists who reap most from it.

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