Spanish Socialists Promise to Block Rajoy as Standoff Deepens

  • Sanchez says there's no possibility he'll let Rajoy govern
  • PP needs Socialist support after losing majority on Sunday

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez is stiffening his party’s opposition to acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy taking office for a second time, while offering support for changes to Spain’s territorial model and the fight against terrorism.

“I told him there is zero chance of an agreement” Sanchez said at a press conference Wednesday after meeting Rajoy in Madrid. “The verdict of the Spanish people last Sunday was a categorical no to Rajoy, to the People’s Party, to his policies and his way of doing politics.”

Rajoy is trying to muster support for a second term after losing his majority and a third of his lawmakers in Sunday’s election. The PP remains the biggest group in parliament, but the most fragmented election result in Spanish history means the Socialists can effectively block his investiture if they vote against him. Sanchez said he wants to see a Socialist named speaker of the new parliament.

The Socialist leader, who said corruption allegations meant the prime minister was unfit to govern during the campaign, said on Sunday that Rajoy had earned the first chance to form a government. Rajoy denies any wrongdoing. On Monday, Sanchez’s deputy, Cesar Luena, had signaled the party might be prepared to step aside and allow Rajoy to govern.

Three-Way Pact

Albert Rivera, the leader of liberal party Ciudadanos, proposed a three-way pact with the PP and the Socialists to confront the threat of Catalan separatism. Rival Catalan groups are seeking to end a three-month standoff over who should lead the regional government to step up their push for independence.

“It’s necessary to prevent anyone taking advantage of the current situation to break up Spain,” Rivera said at a press conference in Madrid. “A possible abstention by Ciudadanos and the Socialists would be enough to allow a new government, and to reach agreement on key questions such as territorial integrity.”

The anarchist-separatist group CUP will poll its members Sunday on a proposal from the mainstream pro-independence movement that includes Artur Mas, the acting regional president. If they vote yes, Catalonia may be able to start pushing through legislation to prepare for independence while the Spanish state is still hamstrung by its electoral gridlock.

As the post-election impasse stretches on, King Felipe may have an important role to play as a mediator. Under normal circumstances the King’s responsibility for nominating a prime minister after the election is just a formality. If the political leaders are unable to broker a resolution, his role could become crucial.

Portugal Parallel

In neighboring Portugal President Anibal Cavaco Silva had to decide whether to give the Socialist leader Antonio Costa a shot at governing after his first choice the conservative leader Pedro Passos Coelho was ousted 11 days in office.

Felipe is scheduled to give his annual address at 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Rivera and the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, will meet Rajoy on Monday. Sanchez,  who registered his party’s worst election result ever, faces a meeting with his party’s Federal Committee Saturday and may come under pressure from regional heavyweights seeking to influence his negotiating strategy.

Susana Diaz, the president of Andalusia where Socialists have their biggest poll of voters, said in a speech in Seville Wednesday that the party shouldn’t contemplate a pact with Podemos because it would put “Spain at risk.” Similar positions have been set out by the leaders of Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha.

“If someone in the Socialist party accepts a referendum in Catalonia, well that person won’t stay much longer as head of the Socialist party,” Emiliano Garcia-Page, regional president of Castilla-La Mancha, said on Antena 3 television. “An agreement with Podemos is possible if Iglesias is reasonable and doesn’t set unacceptable conditions.”

Andalusia, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura are all beneficiaries from the regional distribution of taxes in Spain, while Catalonia is a net contributor.

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