On Wednesday, Pedro Sánchez will once again ask Spanish MPs to approve an extension of the state of emergency that underpins one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in Europe.
If recent days and parliamentary sessions are anything to go by, the prime minister will not be in for an easy ride.
At a time when opposition parties elsewhere in Europe are rallying around the flag, the adversaries of Sánchez’s socialist-led coalition are using the virus as a cudgel.
The government has been bitterly criticised for allowing huge marches around the country to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, for reacting too slowly to the pandemic, and for inconsistencies and delays in publishing some statistics.
On Monday, the leader of the conservative People’s party (PP) announced that he felt unable to support another two-week extension of the emergency situation.
Pablo Casado said the crisis measures, initially designed to contain the disease and prevent the collapse of the country’s intensive care units, were no longer necessary at a time when people were once again being allowed outdoors.
He also accused Sánchez of hasty improvisation and said the PP would not tolerate the minority government’s “immoral” attempts to “hold Spaniards hostage”.
Casado’s language was in keeping with his sustained criticisms of the government – if slightly more moderate than on previous occasions.
“You don’t deserve the support of the opposition,” he told Sánchez in April. “Your arrogance, your lies and your ineffectiveness are an explosive combination for Spain.”
Santiago Abascal, leader of the far-right Vox party, is also refusing to support an extension and has likened Sánchez to a surgeon who kills healthy people on his operating table.
According to Abascal, the socialists and their partners in the far-left, anti-austerity Podemos alliance are seeking to replace democratic normality with “a totalitarian one based on uncertainty that has brought Spain nothing but more death, more ruin, more unemployment and less freedom”.
The pro-independence Catalan Republican Left party has said it will not support the extension either, saying that while exceptional measures are still required, the state of emergency – which has allowed the central government to oversee the national response – is not.
Meanwhile, some separatist Catalan politicians have suggested that there would have been fewer Covid-19 deaths in an independent Catalonia, and accused the central government of sending 1,714,000 facemasks to the region in a barbed reference to the fall of Barcelona at the end of the Spanish war of succession in 1714.
To secure a fresh extension in the country’s 350-seat congress, the government needs only a simple majority – more votes in favour than against.
Much will depend on whether the PP’s 88 MPs abstain from the vote – in which case the extension will pass – or whether they vote no, in which case Sánchez will have to rely on the backing of smaller parties to swell the 155 votes of the coalition government.
The government has hit back at its critics, accusing Casado of acting irresponsibly during a global emergency, and pointing out that the PP rules the Madrid region, the area hardest hit by the virus.
The Madrid regional president, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, apologised last week after the closure of a huge field hospital at Madrid’s main conference centre was marked with a large and crowded ceremony. Photos showed people seeming to ignore social distancing and Ayuso serving a fried squid sandwich to the deputy mayor of Madrid.
The party was also embarrassed recently after pictures emerged, apparently showing the former PP leader and prime minister Mariano Rajoy ignoring the lockdown and going our for walks weeks before outdoor exercise was allowed.
José Pablo Ferrándiz, chief researcher for the polling firm Metroscopia, said that for all the caustic rhetoric, surveys consistently show that Spaniards favour agreement between political parties to help find a way out of the crisis.
Ferrándiz said the PP’s refusal to be seen to support the government stemmed partly from its fear of being eclipsed by Vox.
“Even though the polls suggest they’re still the leaders of the Spanish right and have consolidated their position, the PP are still looking in the rear-view mirror to see whether Vox are catching them up,” he said.
“They’re not looking towards the centre, where there are more people and more room for the PP to grow.”
Berta Barbet, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said that Casado had spent so many months on the offensive against the government that any change of tack would be seized on and exploited by Vox.
But, she added, the current rows over the coronavirus crisis also reflect the historic lack of a centre in Spanish political culture.
“Traditionally, it’s been two quite distinct blocs, and any attempt to create a centre ground or find consensus to deal with issues such as education reform or pension reform has been very difficult because of the big ideological differences between the two blocs,” she said.
“Culturally, there’s been a lot of resentment and collaborating with the other bloc is seen as a betrayal of your party’s values.”
Sánchez and his cabinet may well be looking enviously across the border at Portugal, where another socialist minority government concedes that the support of opposition parties has helped it fight Covid-19.
“Political parties have adopted a responsible behaviour because everybody understood very well the importance of being united to tackle an unexpected pandemic with dramatic consequences,” said António Sales, Portugal’s secretary of state for health.