Left at loggerheads as Spain awaits new government

Fragmented parliament leaves country in political limbo two months after elections

Madrid’s Retiro Park in Madrid: The Socialist Party of Pedro Sánchez requires the support of other parties for Mr Sánchez to win an investiture vote.  Photograph: Juan Medina

Madrid’s Retiro Park in Madrid: The Socialist Party of Pedro Sánchez requires the support of other parties for Mr Sánchez to win an investiture vote. Photograph: Juan Medina

 

Exactly two months after a general election, Spain has still not formed a new government and the possibility of a repeat vote is being mooted to break the political deadlock.

The Socialist Party of Pedro Sánchez, the incumbent prime minister, won the April 28th election. However, it fell short of a parliamentary majority, meaning it requires the support of other parties for Mr Sánchez to win an investiture vote.

The Socialists would be able to win that vote with the support of the leftist Podemos and several smaller regional parties. However, Mr Sánchez has so far rejected demands by Podemos that it enter a coalition government with his party, preferring instead a less formal confidence-and-supply agreement. Mr Sánchez argues that Podemos, which has only 42 seats in the 350-seat congress, does not have enough parliamentary presence to merit ministerial posts.

The parties on the right – the Popular Party, Ciudadanos and Vox – all plan to vote against Mr Sánchez in the investiture session, making the support of Podemos crucial.

“The left knows how to reach agreements,” said Socialist spokeswoman Adriana Lastra on Wednesday. “We would like Podemos to clarify if they will vote against the investiture of a leftist prime minister, along with the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox.”

As they struggle to create a majority, the Socialists have started floating the possibility of repeating the general election.

Before travelling to the G20 summit in Japan, Mr Sánchez said he preferred not to see a repeat vote, although he added, apparently in reference to the demands of Podemos: “But some things we just can’t accept.”

Previous stalemate

This is not the first time a fragmented parliament has left Spain in political limbo. After an inconclusive election in 2015, there were months of stalemate until the ballot was repeated six months later and a conservative government was formed. Before the second election was held, Mr Sánchez attempted to form his own administration, but failed when Podemos refused to support him – a stance that drew criticism from some sectors of the left as it allowed a right-wing government to take office instead.

Although he still does not have the support he needs, on Tuesday Mr Sánchez is expected to announce the date of the upcoming investiture session, widely expected to be in mid-July. If he failed with that effort, he could try again after the summer, although the clock would be ticking towards a new election.

Meanwhile, Mr Sánchez has continued to appeal to parties on the right to ease his investiture, with the implicit argument that this would ensure his government did not depend on the support of pro-independence Catalan and Basque parties. However, these overtures have so far only served to raise tensions with Podemos.

“It’s a shame that [Mr Sánchez] seeks the support of the right, that he threatens a repeat of the election and wants to have a failed investiture,” said Podemos spokeswoman Irene Montero.

Forced coalition

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias suggested that losing an investiture vote next month might force Mr Sánchez into forming a coalition with his party in the autumn.

Some polls suggest that the Socialists, who won 123 seats in April, could benefit from another election and Podemos would lose ground. However, a fourth election in four years might see a low turnout – the traditional enemy of Spain’s left – and a swing back to the right.

“The Socialists and Podemos have no alternative other than to reach an understanding,” noted commentator Carlos Elordi. “Because the only alternative is a repeat of elections which could be fatal for both parties and for the left as a whole.”

The uncertainty caused by the fallout of the election has already hurt Ciudadanos. Several of its senior figures have criticised the refusal of their leader, Albert Rivera, to negotiate the formation of a new government with the Socialists or even to meet Mr Sánchez in recent days. This week, Ciudadanos’s economic spokesman, Toni Roldán, left the party, frustrated at Mr Rivera’s decision not to engage with the Socialists.

“Good politicians are not those who fight but those who reach good deals for the country from different positions,” he told reporters.

He also cited a “lurch” by Ciudadanos to the right that has seen it form administrations with the PP and far-right Vox in Madrid city hall and Andalucía. MEP Javier Nart stepped down from the Ciudadanos executive this week for similar reasons.

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