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Political crisis in the Spanish government. Members of coalition junior partner Unidas Podemos are seething after actions taken today by the speaker of the Congress of Deputies, the Socialist Meritxell Batet. So much so that the alternative left party has announced that it is filing criminal charges against Batet for abuse of public office for having stripped the Podemos member Alberto Rodríguez of his status as an MP, after his conviction - on a charge from 2014 - for assault on a police officer for which he was sentenced to 45 days in jail, automatically commuted to a fine of 540 euros.

In the statement announcing that they are taking legal action against Meritxell Batet, Podemos states that the speaker of the lower house "has taken the decision unilaterally to strip Alberto Rodríguez of his seat, against the criteria of the lawyers of the chamber and the Bureau [procedural committee of Congress] which met on Tuesday and Thursday." In parallel, they point out that Batet "knows the sentence and knows that Rodríguez's disqualification signifies that he cannot stand for election in [any new] elections held in the next 45 days, which in no way means losing his seat."

The decision to lay a complaint against Batet for abuse of office has been adopted, Podemos members explain, because they maintain that the speaker of the Congress "has given in to shameful pressure from the Supreme Court and the extreme right, which does enormous harm to democracy and our country".

Anger in Podemos

Podemos general secretary and Spanish social rights minister, Ione Belarra, was one of the first from the left-wing party to express her disappointment with the decision of Meritxell Batet. In fact, Belarra tweeted about the speaker's abuse of her office." According to Belarra, "Alberto Rodríguez was convicted even though the evidence shows he was not there." The social rights minister maintains that "the aim was to remove him from his seat" and she asserts that "the Supreme Court is pressuring the speaker of Congress to strip him of his MP status even though they both know that is not what the sentence says."

Meanwhile, Pablo Echenique, Unidas Podemos parliamentary spokesperson, stresses that "they convicted Rodríguez without evidence" and reaffirms that "the sentence does not include stripping him of his seat as an MP." In his view, "today Batet yielded to the pressure from Marchena and the far-right of politics and media, who demanded blood" and he maintains that the speaker of the Spanish Congress "has acted despite the risk of committing an abuse of her public office." Finally, he described the action as "shameful."

The other prominent Podemos figure who commented on Meritxell Batet's decision is former leader Pablo Iglesias, who said that "as in the Weimar Republic, the monster is moving forward with its allies." Iglesias pointed the finger directly at the speaker of the house: "Going against the criteria of the legal advisers of Congress and after the pressure from Marchena and the right, Batet, who knows that the trial against Rodríguez was disgraceful, removes his MP status."

Within the Socialist (PSOE) ranks, there are also some who disagree with the actions of the parliamentary speaker. Odón Elorza, a Socialist deputy in the lower house, believes it is "disproportionate and scandalous to deprive a deputy of his seat due to a Supreme Court sentence of one and a half months' prison, substituted in the sentence by a fine of 540 euros and accompanied by disqualification from office".

Moreover, this issue has exploded on the same day that Podemos and PSOE have immersed themselves in a tough fight over Spanish labour law reform. This morning, from Podemos ranks they demanded an emergency meeting to "review the coalition's commitments." The party denounces economy minister and deputy PM Nadia Calviño's "interference" in the negotiation of this labour market reform project. Later, the Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, came out in defence of Calviño and denied any "interference": "What there is, is collaboration, coordination and contribution." For Sánchez, labour reform is "a reform [undertaken by] the entire Spanish government" and he asserted that this legislation involves "many ministries".


Main image: The speaker of the Spanish Congress, Meritxell Batet, on her way to a meeting of the lower house's Bureau. / Europa Press