The leader of Spain's Popular Party Alberto Nunez Feijoo waves...

The leader of Spain's Popular Party Alberto Nunez Feijoo waves during his arrival at Spanish parliament's lower house in Madrid, Spain on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. The leader of Spain's conservatives will have his opportunity to form a new government this week in what has been preordained as a lost cause given his lack of support in the Parliament. Credit: AP/Bernat Armangue

MADRID — The leader of Spain’s conservatives tried to convince lawmakers on Tuesday to let him form the country’s new government, a green light he wasn't expected to get during two rounds of voting in the Spanish parliament later this week.

Alberto Núñez Feijóo spent a good part of his nearly two-hour speech attacking Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez for what Catalan separatists say are on-going talks behind the scenes to grant an amnesty for hundreds, possibly thousands, who ran afoul of the law for their part in a failed 2017 secession bid.

Spain's July 23 national election gave Feijóo's Popular Party the most seats in the parliament's 350-member lower chamber, but well shy of an absolute majority, setting the stage for a difficult path to power.

Under the Spanish Constitution, two investiture votes will determine whether Feijóo has authorization to form a government — likely a coalition with the far-right Vox party. He needs approval from a simple majority of 176 lawmakers in the first vote, which is scheduled for Wednesday after hours of debate.

If he misses that mark, the bar would be lowered for the second round, in which he would need only more “yes” than “no” votes. Abstentions could sway the result in that situation. The second vote is set for Friday.

The Popular Party holds 137 seats in the Congress of the Deputies, the most of any party. But even with backing from Vox's 33 lawmakers and two from small conservative parties representing Navarra and the Canary Islands, Feijóo is still four votes short.

If he fails to win approval, Sánchez would get a shot at staying in the Moncloa Palace. The center-left Socialist leader would have to round up enough support of lawmakers from a group of competing leftist, regionalist and separatist parties from Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Alberto Feijoo, leader of the mainstream conservative Popular Party, arrives...

Alberto Feijoo, leader of the mainstream conservative Popular Party, arrives for a meeting in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. The leader of Spain's conservatives will have his opportunity to form a new government this week in what has been preordained as a lost cause given his lack of support in the Parliament. Alberto Nunez Feijoo's Popular Party won the most seats from inconclusive elections in July but fell well short of a majority. Credit: AP/Manu Fernandez

Feijóo, 62, is trying to use opposition to the possible amnesty for Catalonia's separatists to boost his slim chances. He started his speech to lawmakers Tuesday by accusing Sánchez of being willing to bend to the demands of the separatists, who include fugitives such as Catalonia's former regional leader Carles Puigdemont who fled Spain six years ago.

“I have within my reach the votes that I need to become prime minister,” Feijóo said to laughs from some of his left-wing rivals. “But I am not ready to accept the price I was asked to pay for them.”

Feijóo proposed that, if made prime minister, he would push for a new law to punish “constitutional disloyalty” that would apparently replace a sedition law that was scrapped last year to help Catalan separatists in legal trouble.

He also mocked Sánchez’s argument that his legal reforms, which included the pardoning of nine leaders of Catalonia’s separatist movement, have led to reduced tensions in Barcelona.

Conservative Popular Party leader Alberto Núñez Feijoo walks past acting...

Conservative Popular Party leader Alberto Núñez Feijoo walks past acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, right, before the start of a voting session at the Spanish parliament in Madrid, Spain, on Aug. 17, 2023. The leader of Spain’s conservatives will have his opportunity to form a new government this week in what has been preordained as a lost cause given his lack of support in the Parliament. Alberto Núñez Feijóo's Popular Party won the most seats from inconclusive elections in July but fell well short of a majority. Credit: AP/Paul White

“It is true that there are fewer protests, but why would they get up out of their chairs if you are giving them everything they ask for?” Feijóo said to applause from his party.

Feijóo has had difficulties currying the favor of many smaller parties because of the Popular Party's alliances in some regions with Vox, which is considered anathema by many for its far-right views and its desire to eliminate Spain’s regional governments and concentrate power in Madrid.

So his best shot would appear to hinge on the unlikely scenario that four Socialist lawmakers, presumably at odds with an amnesty, would betray Sánchez and enthrone his rival.

Sánchez declined to respond to Feijóo. That task fell to Socialist lawmaker Óscar Puente, who pulled no punches.

“You know that you won’t be able to govern, and you have known it since election night,” Puente said. “You have turned this procedure into a farce …. There is no hope that you can break (the discipline) of Spain’s Socialist Party.”

The debate turned ugly during and after Puente's speech, with shouts of “coward” heard from members of the Popular Party directed toward Sánchez for his decision to not debate Feijóo. Speaker Francina Armengol had to ask for quiet several times.

Even though Sánchez and his Socialist party have refused to confirm that talks regarding an amnesty are already happening, leading Catalan separatists have said contacts have been made.

Catalonia’s regional president Pere Aragonès said in Barcelona on Tuesday that “an amnesty will be a reality.”

“They said it was impossible, but it will take place because it is inevitable,” Aragonès said. “The amnesty is the absolutely necessary condition” to support a government in Spain.

A failure by Feijóo to form a government would automatically start a two-month period in which Sánchez could try to form a new government. If he also fails, parliament would be dissolved on Nov. 27 and a new election would be called for Jan. 14.

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