Photographer: Juanjo Perez Monclus/Bloomberg

Spanish Socialists Aim to Use Catalan Threat to Win Power

  • Socialist leader says only his party can fix Catalan issue
  • Sanchez aims to lead progressive alliance in government

The Spanish Socialists are trying to use the challenge of Catalan separatism to pull together a progressive alliance in the national parliament.

Only the Socialists can find a way to accommodate Catalonia within Spain, party leader Pedro Sanchez said in an interview with Cadena Ser radio station, as he seeks the support to form a government after last month’s inconclusive election result.

Spanish politicians are trying to resolve an unprecedented impasse in the national parliament after Catalan lawmakers ended a their own political gridlock by electing a separatist leader last night. December’s general election left the lower house in Madrid split between four main parties and Sanchez, 43, insisted that he will vote against the 60-year-old acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy when he seeks parliament’s backing for a second term.

“If Rajoy is not able to form a government, I will try to form a progressive one,” Sanchez said. “The most important thing right now is to form a government that expresses the people’s desire for change and that it be progressive.”

Constitutional Change

Sanchez said he will propose constitutional changes to shift Spain to a more federal model and tame Catalonia’s push for independence, while insisting that he won’t allow the referendum the region’s government is seeking. Sanchez suggested he’d also be willing to listen to Catalan demands for a better deal from Spain’s regional tax system without going into detail.

It’s practically impossible for Rajoy to stay in power without some form of support from the Socialists after his People’s Party lost a third of its seats on Dec. 20. Only the pro-market party Ciudadanos has signaled any willingness to help the prime minister and those two parties are 13 votes short of a majority the 350-seat legislature.

Acting Economy Minister Luis de Guindos called on Sanchez to join a so-called grand coalition with the PP and Ciudadanos in order to protect the country’s economic recovery, echoing a statement from Rajoy’s office issued on Saturday.

“The best option to generate confidence and credibility would be form a grand coalition,” de Guindos said in an interview with Cadena Cope radio station.

Separatists’ Advance

The formation of a Catalan government just hours before the regional parliament would have been forced to call fresh elections is piling the pressure onto officials in Madrid and, in particular the Socialists. Sanchez’s progressive alliance would require the support of the anti-austerity group Podemos, which wants to allow Catalans a vote on leaving Spain.

It also puts the spotlight on King Felipe VI who has a back-room role in the talks over who should govern with the unity of his kingdom under threat. He is also facing a personal storm as his sister, Princess Cristina, arrived in court on Monday to face criminal charges over her involvement in her husband’s business dealings. Her lawyer Miquel Roca says the princess is innocent.

Catalonia’s separatist government, led by 53-year-old former journalist Carles Puigdemont, plans to start work on a new constitution, create a central bank, expand the tax agency, and set up its own mechanisms for security and defense.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, whose group won the most the seats in Catalonia in the national ballot, said he had spoken with Rajoy in a tweet published Monday. As part of his conversation, Iglesias urged Rajoy to get on the phone with Puigdemont and start a dialogue.

“Neither unilateralism nor intransigence will solve anything,” Iglesias said.

Puigdemont got the support of 70 out of 135 lawmakers in the parliament while 63 voted against and two abstained. Forty-eight percent of voters backed separatist parties in September’s regional election, which was framed as a de facto referendum on independence by those pushing for a split.

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