Spain looks likely to have a weak government
Felipe VI, Spain’s monarch, has called on Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist leader, to form a new government as he tries to break the post-elections impasse.
The far-leftist Podemos movement and the centrist Ciudadanos party won together a third of parliamentary seats in the general elections on December 20th, ending the three-decade duopoly of power between the conservative People’s party (PP) of acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy and the centre-left Socialist party (PSOE). The PP, which is buffeted by corruption allegations, won 29 per cent of the vote and 123 seats in the 350-seat legislature, but it was struggling to muster enough votes to win a confidence vote.
The best stable option, commanding a strong majority of 253 seats, would be a coalition between Mr Rajoy’s centre-right party, the Socialists and Ciudadanos. Although years of enmity between the main centre-left and centre-right makes this option unlikely. Last month, Mr Rajoy turned down the king’s offer to be the first candidate to try to form a government, saying he didn’t have enough support to form a coalition that would last four years.
The PSOE came out narrowly ahead of Podemos in the December elections, winning 22 per cent of the vote versus 20.7 per cent for the upstart, anti-austerity movement led by Pablo Iglesias. The Podemos leader has reversed his previous position and is now ready to accept Mr Sánchez as prime minister, claiming for himself the post of deputy prime minister and a string of government posts for his party colleagues, including the economy and interior ministries.
The problem is that the Socialists and Podemos hold 159 seats in the lower house of parliament, or 161 if the United Left party joins them, 15 votes short of an absolute majority. To pass legislation they would need the backing or abstention of parties, which support Catalan independence from Spain, or persuade Ciudadanos to join in. But, Mr Iglesias doesn’t want to govern together with the pro-business party. Podemos and Ciudadanos have only the common ground on issues such as reforming the electoral system and state institutions. Ciudadanos, however, may abstain to allow the Socialists and Podemos to win a confidence vote.
The second problem is that a link-up with Podemos will almost certainly alienate PSOE left-of-centre voters, and may also generate a crisis inside the party. PSOE regional bosses oppose Mr Sánchez’s idea of forming a leftwing alliance, worrying that Podemos’s economic policy could damage Spain’s economic recovery. Felipe González, the former Socialist prime minister, would prefer Mr Sánchez to abstain so that Mr Rajoy can govern with Ciudadanos. The Socialist leadership may soon make an attempt to topple Mr Sánchez to prevent a coalition with the anti-austerity Podemos movement.
A new government in Catalonia has a mandate to break the region from Spain. The third problem, therefore, is that it would be uncomfortable for the PSOE, which claims that it is ready to defend the Spanish unity, to govern together with Podemos, which claims that Catalonia has a right to organise a binding referendum on independence.
La Moncloa Gobierno de España / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0