The tight vote on the labor reform reopens the controversy over the replacement of Alberto Rodríguez | Spain

Alberto Rodríguez intervenes in Congress, last October.
Alberto Rodríguez intervenes in Congress, last October.Eduardo Parra (Europa Press)

The replacement of Alberto Rodríguez’s seat in Congress has once again become a headache for United We Can (UP). The tight vote last Thursday that approved the labor reform thanks to the error of a PP parliamentarian showed the fragility of the majority that supports the coalition government and the danger of having one less deputy in this context. The president of the lower house, Meritxell Batet, decided at the end of October to withdraw the act of parliamentary former number three de Podemos a few weeks after he was sentenced by the Supreme Court to a 45-day prison sentence —replaced by a fine— and disqualification from the right to passive suffrage. The decision, preceded by a strong controversy over the interpretation of the sentence for having kicked a police officer during a demonstration in 2014, then opened a fissure between the partners. Three and a half months have passed and Rodríguez’s seat remains empty. The resolution of the procedure, blocked since then, has become a problem for the national leadership of Podemos, incapable of resolving the conflict and advocating the recovery of its deputy number 35. Since November, the solution has been in the hands of the third of the list, Patricia Mesa, who still has not spoken publicly.

Teodoro García Egea and Cuca Gamarra protest to Batet for the approval of the labor reform, on February 3 in Congress.Photo: EUGENIA MORAGO | Video: EPV

As stated this Tuesday at a press conference by the president of the UP parliamentary group, Jaume Asens, for the moment nothing has moved. Not even the dramatic vote on Thursday has served to change the positions in the Canary Islands. Since Rodríguez lost his seat, the party in the archipelago has asked to “respect the times” of both Fátima González —number two— and Mesa. The first, a member of Izquierda Unida, took about three weeks to formally renounce the act, at which time the Central Electoral Board issued the deputy credential of the next on the list. Already then, some sources indicated that she would not be the one in charge of replacing Rodríguez either and that number four, María del Cristo González del Castillo, belonging to the Podemos Canarias Executive, could do it. In statements to Efe, the regional coordinator, Laura Fuentes, has spoken again this Tuesday in favor of leaving the seat unfilled until the legal process is resolved. “I think symbolically he should be empty,” she said on a “private” basis. “Other people do not consider it that way, but it is a demand that the seat be empty and Podemos Canarias understood it that way”, she has affirmed before defending the “autonomy” of her federation. “It should be the Justice, in the same way that the record has been removed, that says what has to happen,” she concluded.

Sources close to the state leadership of the party rule out that they are going to open a file on Mesa. For the formation, the case of the Canarian deputy is not one more, because they have always defended that the sentence did not entail the withdrawal of the seat and they understand the discomfort of his colleagues for what happened. However, they believe that the strategy in the courts could take years and that the issue will hardly be resolved in this legislature. So far, neither has Vice President Yolanda Díaz, leader of the UP, taken action on the matter.

The same afternoon that Batet decided on the act, Podemos announced a lawsuit against him for prevarication, which he ultimately never filed, but which did raise tensions with the PSOE. That offensive caused a division within the group and both Díaz and Minister Alberto Garzón immediately distanced themselves from the strategy. The relationship between Rodríguez and the formation became rarefied in public just 24 hours later, when the former deputy communicated upon his arrival in the Canary Islands that he was leaving the party. Later, in an interview in the Sixth, he would reproach them for not having done “much more” for him.

Since then, the former Secretary of Organization in the Executive of Pablo Iglesias has followed his own legal strategy. He contracted the services of the office of Gonzalo Boye, a lawyer for the former president Carles Puigdemont, and in December, once the Supreme Court informed him that his sentence had ended, he asked the president of Congress by letter to recover his seat, something that she rejected. A week later, he appealed Batet’s decision to the Constitutional Court and last Friday, just one day after the controversial vote on the labor reform, he made public the appeal against his conviction before the same court. Meanwhile, Mesa, who appeared on her day in the party’s primaries encouraged by Rodríguez, remains silent. Neither the electoral law nor the regulations of Congress establish a maximum term for the deputies to take possession of their act, so the matter may remain paralyzed until the end of the legislature.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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