Rajoy Mocks Socialist Bid to End Spain's Political Impasse

  • Parliament must choose a premier by May 2 to avoid new ballot
  • Socialist leader takes first crack at winning confidence vote

Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy unleashed a barrage of personal and political attacks against Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez as he dismissed his rival’s attempt to form a government in Spain.

Cheered on by his People’s Party lawmakers, Rajoy said Sanchez’s bid to lead a broad coalition has no chance of success, he’s damaging the economy by prolonging the post-election stalemate, and he should recognize the PP’s right to govern because it won the most seats in December vote. Pablo Iglesias, leader of the anti-austerity group Podemos, said his party, too, will vote against Sanchez’s candidacy on Wednesday.

“You’ve wasted everyone’s time,” Rajoy told Sanchez on the second day of debate in the Parliament in Madrid. “This is a comedy. Your candidacy is a farce.”

The bad blood between Spain’s two biggest parties boiled over after Sanchez asked parliament to help him oust Rajoy. The rivals had clashed bitterly during the election campaign with Sanchez telling the PP leader he wasn’t fit to be prime minister because of the corruption allegations roiling his party.

“Rajoy has gone for a bridge-burning speech,” Vincenzo Scarpetta, a policy analyst at Open Europe research institute in London, said on Twitter. “Looks like he’s already in election campaign mode.”

New Chapter

Spain’s political class is struggling to adapt to its new reality after the country’s two-party system was swept away by the fallout from the economic crisis. Ten weeks after an inconclusive election result, Sanchez has added the support of 40 lawmakers from the pro-market group Ciudadanos to the 90 Socialists, but he’s still almost certain to be rejected by the 350-strong chamber at the first attempt on Wednesday. The legislature then has two months to find a prime minister before Spaniards will be forced to vote again.

The country’s old divisions emerged on Wednesday with Iglesias reminding Rajoy of his party’s historic links to the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, while Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos appealed to the chamber not to let the rancor of the Civil War cloud their judgment.

“There won’t be winners and losers,” Rivera said. “We are all going to have to give up on some our demands. We need dialogue. No one has a majority.”

Playing to the Crowd

Sanchez needs the support of a majority to take office at the first try. If, as expected, he falls short, he’ll get a second shot 48 hours later when a plurality will suffice. The Socialist leader is betting his attempts to find a way out of the impasse will win him credit with voters and put pressure on the PP and Podemos to drop their opposition further down the line.

“He is focusing on the idea that all the positive points of his program can be implemented from the first day,” said Pablo Simon, a political science professor at Carlos III University in Madrid. “He is trying to pin the blame on those blocking the formation of the government for acting against the public interest.”

Sanchez and Rivera signed an agreement last week that could form the basis of a governing coalition, should they manage to gain the backing of other political forces. In addition to Podemos, the Socialists are also seeking support from the Basque Nationalist Party, the United Left and a party representing the Canary Islands, Antonio Hernando, who leads the Socialists’ parliamentary group, said last week.

Policy Plans

Iglesias said that deal was a sign that Sanchez’s real goal is to recruit the support of the PP rather than lead a progressive government, and goaded the Socialist leader for failing to impose his will on his party hierarchy.

“They’ve prohibited you from governing with us,” Iglesias said. “Don’t try to fool us with a pact that doesn’t provide solutions to this country’s problems.”

Sanchez said he wanted to help the economic recovery reach more Spaniards, re-establishing welfare rights and collective bargaining powers that Rajoy eliminated during the crisis. He aims to reduce the number of work contracts, clamp down on the abuse of temporary contracts and increase the cost of laying off workers.

He said a Socialist-led government would renegotiate Spain’s deficit reduction pace with European Union officials in Brussels, targeting a shortfall of 1 percent in 2019. To achieve that, he said he’d broaden the tax base while promoting equal pay and increasing the welfare entitlements of parents.

“This can only be described as a threat to the general interests of the Spanish people,” Rajoy said.

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