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28th May 2022

Socialist MEPs asked to support Vox nominee for Sakharov prize

  • The demand was made to break a tie for a finalist spot between the ECR's ultra-conservative candidate, Jeanine Áñez from Bolivia, and The Left's Sultana Khaya, a Western Sahara activist (Photo: European Parliament)
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A number of socialist MEPs were instructed, for "tactical reasons", to support the Sakharov prize candidate proposed by the Spanish far-right Vox on behalf of the conservative European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, EUobserver understands.

The demand was made to break a tie for a finalist spot between the ECR's ultra-conservative candidate, Jeanine Áñez from Bolivia, and The Left's Sultana Khaya, a Western Sahara activist.

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  • Jeanine Áñez, the controversial Bolivian candidate of the ECR and Vox (Photo: Wikimedia)

Áñez won the tie-break vote last week, meaning she was shortlisted for the prize along with 11 Afghan women rights defenders, and Russian dissident Alexei Navalny.

The backing for the jailed Bolivian politician and former interim president came in the wake of an email sent by Croat socialist MEP Tonino Picula, instructing his colleagues in the foreign affairs and development committee to support her.

"For tactical reasons to increase our chances in the final vote, we are kindly asking you to support the ECR candidate in the second voting round now," noted a screenshot of Picula's email, seen by EUobserver.

Picula could not be reached for comment and his office would not deny or confirm the veracity of the email.

Áñez is known for her heavy-handed crackdown on leftist dissidents, following the ouster of her predecessor, Evo Morales.

Human Rights Watch, an NGO, earlier this year said "egregious human rights violations were committed during Áñez´s presidency."

She has since been detained and charged with terrorism and other crimes, and faces up to 24 years in prison if convicted.

A European Parliament resolution over the summer demanded her immediate release.

That socialist lawmakers would seek to support her for "tactical reasons" over a Western Sahara activist also raises questions on possible Moroccan pressure.

With Morocco losing out on an EU trade deal for exploiting Western Sahara resources, recently annulled by the EU court in Luxembourg, the sensitivity over nominating a Sahrawi activist appears acute.

The Spanish government has also been embroiled over the issue.

It recently sacked the minister of foreign affairs for admitting a prominent Western Sahara leader into Spain for treatment against Covid-19.

Morocco responded by allowing thousands of migrants to enter the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

A spokesperson for Spanish MEP Iratxe García Pérez, who leads the socialists group, said she was "not aware of the instruction" made by Picula in his email.

But his email had also been sent on the behalf of Portuguese socialist MEP Pedro Marques, who did respond.

Asked to comment, Marques denied any Morocco links, noting that the decision behind the vote was designed to ensure that ultimately the Afghan women group win the Sakharov Prize.

"The strategic vote only means that if the left wing votes are not divided in the final round, there is a good chance the Afghan women win the Sakharov Prize, as S&D believes they deserve," he said, when asked to comment on Picula's email.

"In any case, this case does not move in any way our clear commitment with the solution in West Sahara," he added.

The support appears to challenge the so-called 'cordon sanitaire' against Vox by Spanish leftwing MEPs.

It is also unlikely Jeanine Áñez will win the prize. But her placement as a top three contender means she can access political support in the European Parliament later on, seen as a likely strategic victory for the far-right.

The Afghan women were nominated by both the S&D and the Greens. Alexei Navalny was proposed by the centre-right EPP and the liberal Renew Europe.

The conference of presidents, which is where the leaders of the parliament's political groups meet, are set to select the laureate on Wednesday.

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