Politics 14/06/2021

Protest against pardons does not fill Plaza Colón

Ayuso insinuates that Felipe VI might not sign them: "What will the king do from now on? Will he sign the pardons?"

5 min
A demonstrator with a banner against Pedro Sánchez yesterday in Plaza Colón.

MadridIt was not the massive demonstration that the triple right had imagined, nor was the joint photo of PP, Vox and Ciudadanos leaders repeated. This time they preferred to avoid each other and keep their own profile, but the three - Pablo Casado, Santiago Abascal and Inés Arrimadas - participated yesterday in the rally against Pedro Sánchez's government's plan to pardon Catalan political prisoners. Formally the act had been called by the civil platform Unión 78, but the three right-wing parties had publicly supported. In addition, the platform's leaders, including Rosa Díez, Fernando Savater and María San Gil, are closely linked to politics.

There was no shortage of Spanish, Vox and Francoist flags, nor chants and cries of "¡Viva España!", against the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, and the pardons. There was also a big banner saying "It's not a pardon, it's blackmail, separatism oppresses Catalans", but it didn't manage to fill the whole square and its surroundings. The protest barely gathered about 25,000 people, according to the Spanish government, almost half as many as in the demonstration in 2019, when the triple right was demonstrating against the dialogue table that Pedro Sánchez tried to promote. Then the call was already attended by fewer people than expected.

Madrid Municipal Police raised the participation figure for yesterday's event to 126,000 people, and the organisers to 200,000. Whatever the figure, this time the right and the far right did not manage to mobilise as many people as in 2019. The rally was also disrupted by technical problems with the sound, which forced to delay the start of the event by 45 minutes.

Rosa Díez takes centre stage

The speeches were given by former UPyD MP Rosa Díez, writer Andrés Trapiello and the president of the Catalan collective S'ha Acabat, Yeray Mellado. Díez, who received lots of applause, said that "they would not be silent" before Pedro Sánchez's "betrayal" by "associating with criminals". "Where is it done that the government benefits the declared enemies of the nation?" she said before announcing more protests.

During statements to the press in front of the PP's headquarters, very close to the demonstration, the leader of the PP, Pablo Casado, was booed and received shouts of "Pablo Casado, you have abandoned us". The PP's president, not as forceful as the leader of the far right, addressed Sánchez to ask him "not to sell national sovereignty, national unity and the equality of Spaniards for a handful of votes and to continue [as president] a few more months". While the PP was demonstrating in Madrid, in Barcelona's Plaça Espanya the party was collecting signatures against pardons. The party claimed "You cannot reward those who threaten to return to crime,".

Vox's leader Santiago Abascal was more comfortable than Casado in an event that held significant symbolism for the far-right party, who asked for "unity" among citizens beyond political partisanship: "Sánchez is capable of doing much evil, it is important that all Spaniards, beyond political partisanship, we are together in this Plaza de Colón, where we return once again without fear and without shame of any kind of photo".

The leader of Cs, Inés Arrimadas, was also heckled by some attendees: "Traitor! Out!" Arrimadas, like Casado, accused Sanchez of pardoning political prisoners to stay in power, and recalled that he ran for the elections ensuring that he would not pardon "the coup plotters".

From the PSOE, the secretary general of the parliamentary group, Rafael Simancas, assured that the rally "promotes discord, division and confrontation", while what is convenient is "concord and unity". The demonstration will not change the plans of the Spanish government, which could even advance the date of the pardons. It was foreseen that the council of ministers would approve them in July, but the first vice-president, Carmen Calvo, assured yesterday in an interview to La Vanguardia that they would be granted "soon".

Ayuso and pardons

On the other hand, the president of Madrid region, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, was again back in the centre of controversy with statements made moments before the start of the demonstration on the role of King Felipe VI in the pardons. Ayuso, in an attempt to accuse the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, of turning the king into an "accomplice" of the pardons, ended up directly questioning Felipe VI, wondering whether he would sign them and taking it for granted that he could oppose them: "What will the king of Spain do from now on? Will he sign the pardons? Will they make him complicit in this?".

What looks like a new improvisation by the Madrid president in reality is the position held by the PP. Sources in the party leadership already pointed out days ago that Sanchez "would have to be responsible" and not put the king in the position of having to sign the pardons when they are approved by the council of ministers. The Constitution, however, does not give the king the ability to decide what laws and decisions to sign. According to the Constitution, the responsibility of the head of state is to sanction laws. This also applies to pardons. In a constitutional monarchy, the responsibility to sign laws and pardons is a formal, symbolic attribution.

The words of the president of Madrid were criticised especially by Ciudadanos. Some leaders described Isabel Díaz Ayuso's words on the king as "madness" and "populism".

"It is a betrayal of Spain, pardons are for the bulls"

It's twelve noon, the thermometer is over 30 degrees and the sun threatens to cause heat strokes, but demonstrators endure stoically waiting for the speeches to begin. Anything for the unity of Spain. "I want Mr. Pedro to leave at once. He does not defend Spain. It's a government that defends separatism and terrorists. In Spain we do not want it, this," says the Evangelina, a lady who is attending the rally - despite the heat - with a Vox winter scarf.

The event starts late because the generator has broken down and the public address system does not work. The politicians are arriving. The ex MP Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo attends accompanied by writer Mario Vargas Llosa. Some of the demonstrators wanted to take photos with the two of them and for a long time they are unable to move forward. Everyone seems to have forgotten that there is a pandemic and that a safe distance still has to be kept. "We have to protest against pardons granted generously and without any justification," says the Nobel Prize winner for literature.

Outside Plaza Colón, hundreds of people seek refuge in the shade. A family with two small children in their Sunday best is waiting for the speeches to begin. The little boy, 4 or 5 years old, looks like he doesn't understand anything and asks his mother what they are doing there: "We are here to criticise Pedro Sánchez, who does a lot of bad things", is the answer. The child doesn't know what to say and starts playing with a Spanish flag he has brought with him.

Next to him, a man waits while he debates about the pardons: "It's a betrayal in Spain. Pardons are for the bulls. Enough of this nonsense with these Catalan sons of bitches".

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