Socialist Head Seeks Governing Alliance to End Spain Impasse

  • Sanchez says he will need at least four weeks to reach a deal
  • Talks due to start Wednesday in parliament, Socialists say

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez begins his search for allies Wednesday after King Felipe VI asked him to try to end the political impasse in Spain.

Officials from the Socialist Party will hold talks with rival groups in Madrid Wednesday afternoon as Sanchez seeks the votes to win a confidence vote, Antonio Hernando, who leads the Socialists in Parliament, said in a radio interview. Sanchez said he would reach out to parties on both sides of the political spectrum as he tries to put together a program for governing.

Pedro Sanchez
Pedro Sanchez
Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg

Six weeks after Spaniards elected the most divided parliament in the country’s history, political leaders are still searching for a combination of parties that can command enough support to push through legislation. The complex arithmetic of Spain’s inconclusive December elections presents a challenge for Sanchez, who finished second in December with 90 lawmakers in the 350-strong chamber.

“It is still very unclear what government coalition is most likely, as there is no obvious coalition,” Antonio Garcia Pascual, chief Europe economist at Barclays Capital in London, said in a note to clients. “New elections remain likely, but we are still early in the negotiation process and further changes in the political landscape are still possible.”

Sanchez said Wednesday he will meet Ciudadanos’s leader Albert Rivera on Thursday and Pablo Iglesias, who heads Podemos, on Friday.

Problems With Podemos

The most likely solution would be a pact with the anti-austerity group Podemos, but that combination brings a series of pitfalls.

Podemos leader Iglesias has riled senior Socialist officials with his belligerent tone as he tried to browbeat Sanchez into joining an alliance. Podemos is also challenging the Socialists’ dominance of the progressive vote in Spain and the party’s flirtation with Catalan separatism alarms some within the Socialist ranks, especially those from parts of Spain helped by subsidies financed in part by the Catalans.

“I can’t see a government with Podemos, I just don’t see it,” Susana Diaz, the powerful regional president from the Socialist stronghold of Andalusia, told the party’s federal committee Saturday. “That’s not the Socialist government with a progressive agenda that we’ve discussed here.”

Sanchez said his government would focus on creating jobs, tackling corruption and reforming the constitution to shape Spain as a federal state as he also defends national unity in the face of secessionist challenges in Catalonia. He’s promised to give Socialist members a vote on any deal before presenting it to the party leadership before ratification.

After that, he’ll head to parliament where a plurality of votes is enough at the second round to take office. That means abstentions can help him get through if he’s short of a full majority.

“We are starting on a path with a bag made of illusion, responsibilities, principles, convictions and generosity,” said Sanchez in a speech to his party’s lawmakers on Wednesday. “When during the negotiations you encounter rude remarks, arrogant attitudes, or hard to accept proposals, what I ask you is that we have a respectful answer.”

Possible Combinations

Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party and Podemos have both pledged to vote against an alliance between the Socialists and Ciudadanos, the preferred option for some Socialist officials, so that combination is unlikely. But Ciudadanos’s Rivera this week signaled his group might abstain to allow the Socialists and Podemos.

Ciudadanos’s abstention might make a deal with Podemos more palatable to Sanchez’s opponents within the Socialists ranks because it would allow him to get through without help from Catalan separatists. But it would rankle with Iglesias, who says he won’t accept support from pro-market Ciudadanos in any form.

“We are facing a vote with a high level of uncertainty,” said Lluis Orriols, a political scientist at Madrid’s Carlos III University, by phone. “Sanchez is in a very complicated situation, so the chances of him failing in the vote are quite high.”

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