Spain’s lower house of parliament is to debate and vote on Tuesday on an enormously divisive amnesty law that aims to sweep away the legal troubles of potentially hundreds of people who were involved in Catalonia’s unsuccessful 2017 independence bid.
Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez agreed to push through the law in exchange for parliamentary support from two small Catalan separatist parties, which enabled him to form a new minority leftist government late last year.
The bill could pave the way for the return of the fugitive ex-Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, head of one of the separatist parties, who fled Spain to Belgium after leading the failed illegal secession bid in 2017 that brought the country to the brink.
A key question is whether Mr Puigdemont’s party will manage to include clauses in the bill that would cover him against all possible legal challenges if he returns. If it cannot, then it may shoot the bill down.
Mr Puigdemont and the Catalan independence issue are anathema for many Spaniards, and the amnesty bill has roused the ire of the conservative and far-right opposition parties that represent roughly half the country’s population.
Many in the judiciary and police are also opposed, as well as several top figures in Mr Sanchez’s own party.
Opposition parties have staged at least seven major demonstrations in recent months against the law.
Even if the bill is approved on Tuesday, it is not known when the law might come into effect as it would have to go to the Senate, where the fiercely conservative leading opposition Popular Party has an absolute majority.
The party has pledged to do all in its power to stall the bill in the senate and challenge it in court.
Mr Sanchez acknowledges that if he had not needed the Catalan separatists’ parliamentary support, he would not have agreed to the amnesty.
He also says that without their support, he could not have formed a government and the right wing could have gained office, having won most seats in the 2023 elections.
He now says that the amnesty will be positive for Spain because it will further calm waters inside Catalonia, and he boasts that his policies for Catalonia since taking office in 2018 have greatly eased tensions that existed between Madrid and Barcelona when the Popular Party was in office.
Mr Sanchez’s previous government granted pardons to several jailed leaders of the Catalan independence movement that helped heal wounds.
The vote needs to be passed by 176 lawmakers in the 350-seat lower house. Mr Sanchez’s minority coalition commands 147 seats but in principle has the backing of at least 30 more lawmakers.