SPAIN’S acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez defended his controversial amnesty deal for members of Catalonian pro-independence parties in parliament yesterday as part of a debate before he seeks the endorsement of the chamber to form a new government today.

Sanchez has tied up the public support of six smaller parties to ensure that he can reach the absolute majority of 176 deputies voting in favour of re-establishing his minority coalition government with the left-wing Sumar party.

Controversy arose after deals were signed with two Catalan independence parties that included a commitment to pass an amnesty law that would wipe the slate clean for hundreds of pro-independence Catalans who had run afoul of the law for their roles in the Catalonian independence referendum in 2017.

The deal includes former Catalonian president Carles Puigdemont, who is a fugitive from Spanish law after he fled to Belgium six years ago.

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Sanchez told parliament: “We are going to promote a climate of living together in harmony and forgiveness.

“In Catalonia and other regions, there are citizens who believe that they would be doing better going their own way. This government believes that a united Spain is a better Spain.”

Sanchez chided the leading opposition People’s Party (PP) for its hard-line stance against the independence supporters, which he said only contributed to pushing more Catalans into the independence camp when the conservatives were governing.

He said that his pardoning of imprisoned Catalan leaders in 2021 had led to reducing tensions.

“Dialogue, a generous attitude and forgiveness has worked. That is that our proposal is to continue with the position for the next hour years,” Sanchez said, to applause from his party and some jeers from opponents.

The National: Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, right, speaks during the investiture debate at the Spanish Parliament in Madrid

Spain’s judges have heavily criticised the proposed amnesty, calling it an intrusion of the legislative branch into the separation of powers. The European Union is also reviewing the proposal.

The amnesty agreement has also sparked protests in Madrid and even in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia. Spain’s opposition conservative and far-right parties accuse Sanchez of betraying the nation for granting the amnesty just to hold onto power. More protests are expected in Madrid, where the parliament building is under tight security.

“For those who had peacefully protested, I want to show them my respect and acknowledgement,” Sanchez, said before defending the constitutionality of the support he has garnered.

Sanchez spent most of his initial speech presenting his plan for government. He compared his policies to expand women’s rights and adapt to climate change to what he called the reactionary agenda of PP, who have entered into alliances with the far-right Vox party in several regional governments.

“The only effective barrier to the policies of the far-right is our coalition government,” Sanchez said.

If Sanchez, who has been Spain’s prime minister since 2018 and one of the longest-serving socialist leaders in Europe, were to lose today’s vote, he would have a second chance on Saturday to win more “yes” than “no” votes.

The formation of a new government would end a period of political uncertainty since inconclusive national elections on July 23 left a highly fractured parliament.

The PP gained the most votes in the summer elections, but it failed to form a government when it tried in September.

Besides the amnesty, Sanchez had to make more concessions to Puigdemont’s Junts party and rival pro-independence party Republican Left for Catalonia (ERC).

The Socialists agreed with ERC to relieve millions of euros of debt for Catalonia and to cede it partial control of commuter train services.

Sanchez’s party then bent to Puigdemont’s pressure to let Catalonia keep more of its tax revenues, and to open talks on the possibility of debating a referendum for independence for Catalonia, but within the limits of the Spanish Constitution.