Spanish investiture goes down to wire

Socialist Sánchez seeks Podemos backing ahead of crunch votes

Spanish acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez: main obstacle to a deal has been Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias’s insistence on a ministerial post. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

Spanish acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez: main obstacle to a deal has been Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias’s insistence on a ministerial post. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

 

The outcome of a parliamentary vote scheduled for Tuesday to decide the formation of a new Spanish government remains uncertain, as Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez is still negotiating with potential allies in a last-minute bid to end a political stalemate.

Mr Sánchez, who has been prime minister since June 2018, is widely expected to lose the vote, given that he requires an absolute majority in the 350-seat congress.

His Socialists won April’s general election but, with 123 seats, fell short of a majority.

They have a better chance of winning a second and final investiture vote, expected to be held on Thursday, which only requires a simple majority (that is, more votes in favour than against).

Mr Sánchez has been locked in talks for much of the last three months with his most natural ally, the leftist Podemos party, whose backing would take him close to a parliamentary majority. However, relations between the two parties have deteriorated due to their contrasting proposals for the new government’s format, with Podemos wanting a formal coalition, while the Socialists would prefer to govern alone under a confidence-and-supply agreement.

Mr Sánchez would also need the help of other, smaller parties, possibly in the form of abstentions, in order to win one of the investiture votes.

Last week, Mr Sánchez said that the main obstacle to a deal had been Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias’s insistence on being given a ministerial post in the government. He added that this was not possible because of Podemos’s support for the Catalan right to self-determination, which the Socialist Party does not share because the constitution does not allow for it.

Defending democracy

“I need a deputy prime minister who defends Spanish democracy,” Mr Sánchez told a television interviewer, adding that “99.9 per cent” of talks between the two parties had focused on posts in the new government, rather than on policies.

Mr Iglesias responded by withdrawing his request to be part of the cabinet. However, he said that Podemos should be represented in the government according to its share of votes in the general election – which would give the party about five ministers.

“We need responsibilities that reflect our electoral weight,” Mr Iglesias told Mr Sánchez on Monday during the parliamentary debate ahead of the investiture vote. “We cannot be a mere adornment of your government.”

If Mr Sánchez loses both investiture votes this week, then the prospect of another general election in November would be much more likely. Both parties are reportedly still negotiating.

High-tech economy

“The pact [with Podemos] is not easy but the promise of the left unites us,” Mr Sánchez said in a two-hour speech that opened the investiture process.

The acting prime minister outlined plans for a high-tech economy, greater gender equality, pensions reform and a campaign against climate change. However, his decision not to broach the thorny issue of Catalonia drew criticism.

Gabriel Rufián, spokesman for the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left (ERC), which has expressed a willingness to use its votes to help the formation of a Socialist-Podemos government, warned that it was “irresponsible and negligent” of Mr Sánchez not to mention Catalonia.