An end to the stalemate in Spain?

Centre-right party opens door to formation of a new government

 

Just when it seemed Spanish politicians had locked themselves into a third election within 12 months, to the despair of a weary electorate, one of the country’s new parties, the reformist centre-right Ciudadanos, has opened a door towards the formation of a new government.

A week ago, the situation following June’s inconclusive elections was completely blocked. The rightwing Partido Popular (PP) had won most seats, but had fallen far short of a majority. Its leader, acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy, refused to set a date for a vote on his mandate, and made no serious attempt to win over other parties.

He may calculate that he has more chance of support from Basque and Galician parties once elections in those autonomous regions take place in September. Or even that his party might make significant gains in yet another state-wide poll.

Meanwhile, Catalan nationalists, taking advantage of a regional parliamentary majority that does not fully reflect their popular vote, last month took a further step towards independence. This offers the prospect of an unprecedented constitutional crisis, without a new government in place in Madrid to deal with it.

The other Spanish parties accused Rajoy of gross irresponsibility: delicate financial negotiations with the EU were also in train, and a national budget, which cannot be presented by a caretaker administration, is due in the autumn.

Yet each of them seemed equally unwilling to compromise. They all insisted Rajoy, whose party is embroiled in multiple corruption scandals, about which he has been remarkably complacent, is unfit to continue as prime minister.

There was never any possibility that the radical leftist Podemos, Spain’s other new party, would back the PP. And Podemos has neither the numbers nor the inclination to support efforts by the Socialist Party (PSOE), which came second in the elections, to form an alternative administration.

The PSOE in turn insisted it would not even consider abstention to allow Rajoy to form a minority government. Ciudadanos said it would consider abstention, but repeatedly stated categorically that it would never vote for a PP government while Rajoy remained in charge.

And then, last Wednesday, Ciudadanos made a surprise offer to support Rajoy, if he promptly set a date for the investiture vote, and met six tough conditions aimed at purging Spanish politics of corruption. Yesterday, its leader, Albert Rivera, appealed to the PSOE to consider abstention to allow such a deal, apparently well received in the PP, to proceed.

Rajoy would certainly be very foolhardy to reject Ciudadanos’s terms. The Spanish electorate will hardly forgive a leader who throws away an opportunity to end a dangerous period of stagnation, especially if he appears to be doing so to protect utterly unacceptable political practices.

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