Spanish stalemate continues as Rajoy seeks governing partner

Former prime minister Felipe González urges Socialists to help end political impasse

Nearly two weeks after repeated elections which it was hoped would end six months of political stalemate, Spain looks no closer to having a new government.

With the governing Popular Party (PP) having strengthened its position by taking 14 new seats in winning the June 26th election, acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy is hoping to form a new administration by late July or early August.

But having fallen well short of a majority in Congress, the PP would need the support of other parties. Its governing style of the last four years, which many have criticised as aloof and autocratic, is an obstacle to gaining support from potential partners, as is a swathe of corruption scandals affecting the party.

Mr Rajoy warned on Thursday that the Spanish economy's fragile recovery could be threatened if the stalemate continued much longer – or if the country had to stage a third election to end it. "It would be a shame if things started to take a turn for the worse just because of the inability to form a government," he said.


This week, the acting prime minister has reached out to the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), whose five seats could be crucial in a parliamentary investiture vote to decide on the creation of a new government, if the PP were also to gain the support of another, larger party.

“I told him that for the moment we would vote ‘no’ but that we’re open to dialogue,” said the PNV’s Aitor Esteban after meeting Mr Rajoy on Wednesday. The PNV, which governs the Basque region, overlaps with the PP on many economic and social issues but its moderate nationalism clashes with the staunch centralism of the Rajoy government.

Mr Esteban complained that over the last four years the central administration used its majority to “steamroller” laws through Congress, often undermining the Basque region’s autonomous status.

Tainted figure

Further complicating matters is the stance of Ciudadanos, a new liberal party, which came fourth in the election and is the PP’s most natural partner. Deeply opposed to Basque and Catalan nationalism, it would be reluctant to take part in any kind of deal that involved the PNV. It is also unhappy about Mr Rajoy remaining as prime minister, preferring a less tainted figure from the PP’s ranks.

In the meantime, pressure is building from some quarters for the Socialist Party, which came second in the recent election, to end the impasse by easing the formation of a new PP government. On Thursday, former Socialist prime minister Felipe González published an oped in El País newspaper in which he wrote that if his party "can't form a government, nor should it be an obstacle to [a] government being formed".

Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez has so far refused to heed such advice, a position that is likely to be backed by a party federal committee meeting on Saturday.

Although Mr Rajoy appears to be the most likely candidate to emerge as prime minister, there are still calls from the weakened left for the Socialists to attempt to build a progressive coalition.

“Let’s not drop our heads and give up on the possibility of an alternative,” said Teresa Rodríguez, a senior figure in the anti-austerity Podemos, which was third in the election. “The numbers don’t add up for the PP.”

For now, the Socialists, whose attempts to form a governing pact with Podemos in the spring broke down in acrimony, appear to have ruled out trying again.

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain