Many did it "with a peg on their nose," as Jaume Asens put it. Others directly breached the party voting discipline, in order to avoid helping lawyer Enrique Arnaldo to take a place on the Spanish Constitutional Court. But from the junior government partner, Unidas Podemos, the assertion is that they did "what they had to do." This was the argument put this Friday by the Spanish equality minister, Irene Montero, who asserted that she and her colleagues were required to vote in favour of the four candidates agreed between the Spanish government and the PP. The aim was to "put an end to the hijacking of constitutional bodies by the right and the far right", and she considers that what occurred was a "social consensus".
Voting was secret and electronic. Two-hundred and ten MPs' votes in favour were needed and the total of the PSOE, PP and Unidas Podemos seats adds up to 243. The name of Constitutional Court judge Enrique Arnaldo had eleven fewer votes than expected (232), while that of the other PP nominee, Concepción Espejel had six fewer (327) than she arithmetically should have received. Some of the small parties cast blank votes. On the other hand, the pro-independence and peripheral nationalist parties directly chose to take no part in the vote, because they did not have the option to defeat it by voting against. The boycott was carried out by ERC, Junts, the PDeCAT, the CUP, the PNB, EH Bildu and the BNG, who from inside and outside the chamber denounced the "farce". A total of 100 deputies did not participate in the vote.
There were quite a few dissenters within the government ranks, but insufficient. From the PSOE, a well-known free agent, the Basque MP and former mayor of Donosti, Odón Elorza, who justified his action "in defence of the prestige and dignity of the institutions." Sources in the Socialist group say that the leadership "will study the case [for discipline] in the coming days and make a decision in this regard". Former minister José Luis Ábalos also admitted to TV channel Cuatro that he had abstained "by mistake". He quickly communicated this to the parliamentary group and will not be sanctioned. On behalf of Unidas Podemos, deputies Gloria Elizo and Meri Pita did not vote for Arnaldo. The sources of the remaining dissent are difficult to know, as it is a secret ballot.
Probably the most complicated role was played by Unidas Podemos. Deputy Antón Gómez-Reino argued that the only thing required was to break the deadlock on institutional renewal. During the parliamentary session, the far-right deputies Vox mocked Unidas Podemos for taking part in this spectacle. From their seats, on several occasions, Vox MPs were heard parodying the famous Podemos slogan: “Sí se puede” - yes, you can.
The debate and controversy have revolved mainly around the figure of Enrique Arnaldo, a Spanish parliamentary lawyer and now a Constitutional Court judge. He is pursused by the critique that he lacks impartiality. He has spoken out against the Catalan independence movement in press articles and participated for years in events of the FAES, the foundation chaired by José María Aznar. Conflicts of interest also haunt him. He violated the very Statute of the Congress of Deputies, when he was appointed as an adviser to the Balearic government of Jaume Matas, of the PP, at the same time as he was acting as legal coordinator in various committees of the lower house. His law firm also received payments for services rendered to several PP-led administrations.
But the other name proposed by the PP, Concepción Espejel, is also controversial, despite the fact that the scandals over her new colleague Arnaldo have centred the media's attention. Until now, she has been president of the criminal chamber of the National Audience, and also has several difficult issues punctuating her CV. First of all, her close relationship with former PP general secretary Maria Dolores de Cospedal, which she denies but which in 2015 led to her withdrawal from the trial of the Gürtel corruption case centred on the party. The judge disputes that the action arose due to her proximity to the PP. Espejel also stands out for her dissenting vote in the sentence that acquitted Mossos police chief Josep Lluís Trapero and three other senior figures in the force for alleged offences of rebellion and sedition in the Catalan referendum of 1st October 2017. She wanted to convict the police leaders, but was outvoted, two to one.