Spain King Taps Socialists to Form Government to End Impasse

  • Sanchez says he will need at least four weeks of negotiations
  • Spain's Socialists to start negotiations as soon as this week

King Felipe VI asked the Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez to find a solution to Spain’s political stalemate, lending royal approval to negotiations with the anti-austerity group Podemos. 

Felipe nominated Sanchez to try to form the next government following consultations with the leaders of all parties, Patxi Lopez, parliament’s speaker, said in a televised statement. Sanchez said he would hold talks with other political forces including Pablo Iglesias’s Podemos and the pro-business party Ciudadanos over at least the coming four weeks as he seeks to build support to govern.

“The Socialist Party is assuming this responsibility with Spain,” Sanchez said at a televised press conference following talks with Felipe. “I am grateful for the confidence deposited in me and in the Socialist party.”

Six weeks after voters elected the most fragmented parliament in Spanish history, the king has been coaxing party leaders into setting aside differences to put together a program that can command the support of a majority of lawmakers. With Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party buffeted by corruption allegations and increasingly toxic to potential allies, the most likely solution would see Sanchez seal a pact with either Podemos or pro-market Ciudadanos.

Complex Arithmetic

The complex arithmetic of Spain’s inconclusive December elections presents a challenge for Sanchez as he tries to build a support base for a government.

With 90 seats in congress to the PP’s 123, he must reach out to the Podemos platform with 69 seats and Ciudadanos with 40 to build a working majority to govern. Iglesias of Podemos last month offered to support a Socialist-led government in return for taking the post of deputy prime minister and clutch of cabinet posts for his party.

In a news conference Tuesday before the king’s decision was announced, Iglesias urged Sanchez to choose to work with his party instead of building a broader alliance with Ciudadanos which would prove unworkable. The prospect of an alliance with Podemos is stirring tensions within the Socialist leadership because the anti-austerity group is challenging the Socialists’ traditional dominance of the progressive vote, and because of its flirtation with Catalan separatism.

In a news conference Tuesday, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera welcomed the king’s decision to designate Sanchez, saying his party shared some common ground with the Socialists even as he said he would also be speaking to Rajoy’s PP.

He said he hoped talks with Sanchez could start as soon as this week. Earlier Rajoy, who is fighting to extend the government term he won for the PP in 2011, said in a news conference that the king had not invited him to try to form a government because he didn’t have the backing he would need to do so from the Socialists.

The Spanish parliament now has to set a date to hold a vote to test support for Sanchez’s bid to lead a government. If he doesn’t get an outright majority, a second vote would be held 48 hours later in which a simple majority would suffice. New elections would be called if political groups can’t forge a government pact within two months from the first vote in the parliament.

High Uncertainty

“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.”

Sanchez said he would reach out to parties on his right and left as he seeks support for a program based 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.

Sanchez won qualified support from his party hierarchy on Saturday to pursue negotiations with Podemos, after promising to give the federal committee a veto over any deal. Before that group gets to rule though, he’ll ballot party members to try and bolster his position.

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