FOR THURSDAY DIARY – What to expect from Spain's progressive coalition

By Santiago Sanchez B. and Beyza Binnur Donmez

MADRID/ANKARA (AA) – After years of political turmoil, Spaniards now swing between apprehension, antagonism and, in some cases, hope.

Lawmakers appear to have settled political deadlock in the country for now, forming a coalition government woven between two left-wing parties and six smaller leftist and nationalist partners.

This "progressive" alliance, formed between the Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and Unidas Podemos, is widely seen as fragile and forced, and its constituent parts as disunited among themselves.

This is the first time in the history of Spain, since its transition to democracy in the late 1970s, that a coalition government was formed. It is also the first time that a prospective premier required the support of so many parties.

In addition to Unidas Podemos, Prime Minister and PSOE chief Pedro Sanchez has had to resort to the Basque Nationalist Party, More Country-Commitment, New Canary Islands, the Galician Nationalist Bloc and Teruel Exists — all small and with interests of their own — making it all the more difficult to come to joint decisions on country-wide issues.

On Jan. 8, the coalition won with an extremely tight simple majority — 165 politicians voted against the coalition and 167 voted in its favor. The rest of the members of the 350-seat parliament abstained.

The opposition was led by the right-wing Popular Party, as well as the parties Citizens and far-right VOX. The win was largely indebted to the negotiated abstention of the Republican Left of Catalonia party, and EH Bildu — a Basque nationalist party that has links to the extinct ETA terrorist group.

Right-wing parties have accused the coalition government of collaborating with "separatists and terrorists", due to its agreement with these two parties.

Founded in 1959, ETA has waged an armed struggle to establish an independent Basque state in northern Spain and southwest France. It is accused of killing at least 800 people and kidnapping dozens of others.

A week after the crucial victory, the PSOE announced the formation of a 22-member cabinet with 17 of its own members and five from Unidas Podemos.

– Watching your back

The formation of the coalition is critical in stabilizing the country, as well as building a positive image in the eyes of the EU and international bodies such as the World Trade Organization and establishing a clear leadership in government.

In what some see as an attempt to dilute the influence of Unidas Podemos chief Pablo Iglesias, who negotiated from the beginning to become vice president for social rights and the 2030 agenda, Sanchez secured the three other vice presidential posts.

The vice presidents of coalition government, chaired by Sanchez, will be Pablo Iglesias, Carmen Calvo, Nadia Calvino and Teresa Ribera.

For the first time in history, the country will have three female vice presidents.

The alliance opened the door for Podemos to occupy key portfolios including the Ministry of Equality, which will be managed by Irene Montero, as well as the ministries of labor, consumption and universities.

The division reveals a key feature of this symbiosis, being that more technical profiles that bear more international weight such as the economy and climate change — a political priority in Europe — as well as the ministries of defense, justice, interior and foreign affairs will continue to be run by the PSOE, while social issues will be tasked to Podemos, a new-comer in government.

– Cohesion or shipwreck

In the country's new legislature, three major issues occupy the agenda: the economy, environment and still-unresolved issue of Catalonia and environmental issues.

For the new government to work, the coexistence between Sanchez and Iglesias must be congruent and coherent, and the leaders must — at least temporarily — abandon their theatrical rivalries that have become customary in Spanish politics.

On the other hand, it is imperative that left-wing lawmakers remain loyal to their parties in order to uphold the viability of their government, and in this case the uncomfortable conversations that are pending with Catalan independence will be relevant and on which a gigantic social and political pressure.

In addition to all this, the nascent government will face a vehement right-wing opposition.

Amid all this uncertainty, the expectations that Spaniards have for this government are low, as is its likelihood of staying together.

– Four years of failure

In late July last year, days before Sanchez's minority government lost parliamentary confidence votes triggering snap elections, the Sanchez rejected a last minute offer by Podemos on forming the government, due to disagreement on which party would receive the labor portfolio, which Podemos demanded in return for his support.

Sanchez also closed the doors to possible negotiation on a referendum with Catalan nationalist parties, ruling out a referendum of any "action and dialogue".

However this time around, he found common ground with both groups, giving Labor Ministry to Podemos and softening his rhetoric on the issue of Catalonia, saying it was a problem that should be resolved through dialogue.

Spain's political system, which was based on two major parties — the right-wing Popular Party and the PSOE, collapsed after the 2008-2014 economic crisis, forcing the parties to seek support from the smaller parties that gained popularity in order to form minority governments.

As a result of the economic crisis, the presence of new parties such as Podemos and the Citizens party had caused the Popular Party and PSOE to lose votes. Since 2015, no party has been able to gain the majority necessary to form a government, which has led the country to hold the third general elections in four years.

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By Handan Kazanci

ANKARA (AA) - Anadolu Agency is here with a rundown of the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic and other news in Turkey and around the world.

- Coronavirus in Turkey

Turkey on Thursday confirmed 926 additional recoveries as the country began easing measures against the novel coronavirus, according to the country’s health minister.

The total number of recoveries from the disease hit 131,778 as 926 more patients were discharged from hospitals over the past day, Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter, citing Health Ministry data.

The country's death toll from the outbreak rose to 4,630 as Turkey reported 21 new fatalities over the last 24 hours.

Turkey conducted over 54,000 COVID-19 tests in the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally to more than 2.2 million, said Koca.

Meanwhile, Turkey plans to resume international flights to 40 countries gradually as of June 10, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said Thursday.

International flights from Turkey will carry passengers first to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Qatar and Greece, Karaismailoglu said in a statement.

Turkey suspended all international flights on March 28 amid COVID-19-related travel restrictions worldwide.

- Global coronavirus developments

A low death toll was once again recorded Thursday as France recovers from the coronavirus pandemic which plagued the country over the last three months, according to the latest statistics reported by the Health Ministry.

The country registered a total of 46 deaths in hospitals Thursday, a drop of 39 cases over those reported Wednesday.

Italy on Thursday reported 88 more fatalities from the pandemic, bringing the death toll to 33,689 as authorities unveiled new guidelines to prevent crowded summer spots like beach resorts from becoming new virus hotbeds.

The slowing trend in the number of deaths registered in May continued in early June, confirming that the peak of the crisis has been passed.

Face masks on English public transport will be mandatory from June 15, the British government announced Thursday, as a further 176 people died from the coronavirus over the past 24 hours.

British authorities announced that the UK-wide death toll from COVID-19 is now 39,904.

As Spain prepares for its state of emergency over COVID-19 to last until June 21, the Health Ministry reported Thursday that 195 more people were infected with the coronavirus and five more had died.

The number of infections diagnosed Wednesday was down slightly from the 219 people who tested positive Tuesday but up from Monday and Sunday. In total, 240,660 infections have been confirmed in the country.

Health officials in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza announced Thursday the arrival of medical supplies sent by Turkey to help fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra confirmed that two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines had been delivered for detecting the virus.

- George Floyd Memorial service

Hundreds of mourners on Thursday attended the first of several memorials for George Floyd – an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody on May 25.

The service at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota was attended by Floyd's family and Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing the family, as well as celebrity guests.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday urged demonstrators joining protests over the death of George Floyd to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

Speaking at his daily press briefing, Cuomo said around 30,000 people have taken part in the statewide protests demanding justice for the killing of the unarmed black man in police custody.

Of them, 20,000 were involved in rallies in New York City.

In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged citizens not to overlook the racism problem in Germany while intensely discussing racism and police brutality in the US after the death of George Floyd.

"This murder of George Floyd is very, very terrible. Racism is something terrible,” Merkel said Thursday evening in an exclusive interview with public broadcaster ZDF.

“Racism has always been present, but sadly we also have this [problem]. We should first sweep in front of our own door,” she stressed.

- Other developments

Turkey and Libya plan to advance cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, including exploration and drilling activities, to further benefit from natural resources, Turkey’s president said in a meeting with Libya’s prime minister Thursday.

The meeting between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj took place at the presidential palace in the Turkish capital Ankara.

Erdogan said Turkey and Libya have reached a consensus on expanding their cooperation areas on the territory of Libya.