Spanish Socialists Sign Ciudadanos Pact Trying to Avoid Vote

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  • Fresh elections could be held in June if Socialists fail
  • Socialists still need support from other political parties

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez signed a pact with the liberal party Ciudadanos that could form the basis of a governing coalition, seeking to portray anti-austerity Podemos and Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as the ones holding the country back.

Sanchez and Ciudadanos’s head Albert Rivera, who signed the agreement Wednesday in the Parliament in Madrid, are still trying to win support from other parties including Podemos, Antonio Hernando, who leads the Socialists’ parliamentary group said in an interview with Cadena Ser Radio earlier Wednesday. The two parties don’t have enough lawmakers on their own to win a confidence vote in the lower chamber next week.

“This is an historic agreement between two national forces, that not only agree an investiture but a path of reform,” said Sanchez in a televised speech. “This agreement is a step forward because it proposes a solution for this country’s political gridlock.”

Sanchez is seeking allies to oust Rajoy’s People’s Party, which is still governing nine weeks after general elections failed to produce a clear winner. Should the country’s 350-seat parliament fail to pick a prime minister by May 2, the country will be heading for fresh elections, most probably on June 26.

Podemos and the PP both rejected the idea of supporting the deal, or even abstaining to allow Sanchez to take office. Fernando Martinez-Maillo, the PP’s deputy secretary general, said the deal was simply political posturing while Inigo Errejon, Podemos’s no. 2, said Sanchez has turned his back on the offer of a progressive alliance.

“This isn’t compatible with Podemos,” Errejon said at a press conference in parliament. “Sanchez has made his choice and that’s not compatible with a progressive government.”

Public Opinion

While the two parties still have only 130 lawmakers in Spain’s 350-strong parliament, Sanchez and Rivera are betting that their willingness to cut a deal will boost support among voters and ultimately persuade one of the other parties to join their alliance, even if they fail to win the confidence vote next week.

“Some people think that this is only about counting seats -- that it is a maths problem,” said Rivera in a televised press conference from the parliament Wednesday. “The issue here is about generosity, bravery, it’s about a lack of political will.”

As well as Podemos, the Socialists are seeking support from the Basque Nationalist Party, Valencia’s Compromis, the United Left and a party representing the Canary Islands, Hernando told Cadena Ser. The PP should analyze the agreement between Sanchez and Rivera before deciding whether to reject it, Ciudadanos’s lawmaker Juan Carlos Girauta told reporters Wednesday.

About 65 percent of Spaniards would blame politicians for refusing to compromise if the country goes to fresh elections, according to a Metroscopia poll based on 2,400 interviews this month. The margin of error was 2 percentage points. A multi-party system is seen as preferable by 66 percent of Spaniards over the two-party system that has been ruling Spain since the 1980s, Metroscopia said.

Sanchez needs an outright majority to take power on March 2, while a plurality will suffice in a second vote that is likely to take place on March 5. Spain’s main pollster are planning surveys following that second ballot to gauge voters reactions to the political maneuvering.

The 66-page document signed by the two parties Wednesday includes proposals aimed at strengthening the independence of the judges, removing a layer of public administration at provincial level and limiting the term of prime ministers to eight years. The pact also includes a commitment not to raise income taxes.