(Bloomberg) -- Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialist party won a key vote in the country’s fragmented parliament, handing the caretaker leader a major boost in his bid to retain the job.
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In one of the tightest votes since democracy was restored in the late 1970s, Socialist candidate Francina Armengol was elected speaker of the 350-strong lower house of parliament Thursday. She won 178 votes, enough for an absolute majority, beating opponent Cuca Gamarra of the conservative People’s Party.
Sanchez and his main rival, Alberto Nunez Feijoo of the PP, are both vying to gain enough support from lawmakers to secure the job of prime minister following July’s national election stalemate. Thursday’s ballot was seen as providing a first indication of whether Sanchez can muster enough backing to remain in power.
The inconclusive election last month handed the country’s left- and right-wing blocs roughly the same amount of seats and made a handful of representatives from smaller parties potential kingmakers.
Armengol’s victory was bolstered by backing from Catalan pro-independence group Junts, led by former regional President Carles Puigdemont, which has seven lawmakers.
As part of the deal to support Armengol, Junts demanded that Spain formally request that Catalan, Basque and Galician are made official European languages.
Read more: How Spain’s Culture Wars Are Shaping Its Politics: QuickTake
In a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Puigdemont said that the Spanish government has registered the request with the European Union. Spain currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, which would decide whether or not to approve it, he added.
A surprise twist in the voting came from Vox, the far-right party that was expected to support the PP’s candidate. It chose instead to put forward one of its own, who won no support from other parties.
When it comes to the vote for prime minister, Feijoo’s party, Vox and one other party have a clear chance of combining for 171 votes, while Sanchez is expected to get 172 from a group of allies, including the Basque nationalist PNV.
The seven Junts lawmakers and the one deputy from the Canary Islands’ CC could potentially break the deadlock.
Puigdemont, who has been on the run from Spanish courts since 2017 and living in Belgium, said Wednesday that negotiations around picking the speaker were completely separate from those to choose a premier.
(Updates with language agreement, Puigdemont comments starting in sixth paragraph)
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