Despite differences, Spain gets its new coalition government

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Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez addresses the media at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. Sanchez was chosen by Parliament as prime minister on Tuesday, ending a period in which he led a caretaker Socialist government following two inconclusive elections last year.(AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID – Spain's first coalition government in the four decades since the return of democracy took shape Monday as 22 Cabinet ministers took their oaths of office.

Questions though remained as to whether the government of two left-wing parties can see out its four-year term as it is a minority administration and confronts an array of vexing issues that could lead to tensions within the coalition.

Beyond handling separatist tensions in the economically powerful northeastern region of Catalonia and recharging what is the fourth largest economy in the eurozone, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has a tricky task in maintaining the support of his coalition partner, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the anti-austerity United We Can party.

“Either they cooperate or they will open the door to a right-wing coalition supported by the far-right,” said Ana Sofía Cardenal, a political science lecturer with Catalonia’s UOC university. “A failure of the coalition would dent the credibility of United We Can and damage the reputation of the Socialists.”

Catalonia is, by far, the biggest immediate problem — and one that will demand unity within the government.

Sánchez secured his government last week by two votes, the slimmest majority of any Spanish prime minister in recent decades. He did it thanks to the abstention of 13 members of the pro-Catalan independence ERC party on the promise that he would sit and talk with them about how to resolve Spain’s most serious internal issue since the return to democracy in 1978.

The ERC, which has several leading members jailed for an illegal independence push in 2017, insists on self-determination for Catalonia, something the Spanish Constitution and Sánchez rules out.

What the Socialists can legally offer to keep the ERC from voting against the government is still unknown.