Spain Has Two Months to Find a Premier or Face New Election: Q&A

  • Parliament process begins more than two months after vote
  • Socialist Sanchez has first shot after Rajoy declined to try

It’s more than two months since Spain voted in elections that failed to produce a clear winner or even any viable coalition. Political developments are about to hot up again.

I’m just tuning in: What’s happening?

Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez faces a confidence vote in Parliament this week. If he wins it, he can take office, and the political stalemate since Dec. 20 is over.

Does that mean Spain is about to get a government?

Not quite. Sanchez will almost certainly lose the vote.

Why so?

The Socialists have only got 90 lawmakers in the 350-seat chamber. So far, Sanchez has managed to broker a deal with the 40 representatives of the pro-market Ciudadanos group, but the incumbent People’s Party and the anti-austerity group Podemos have both vowed to vote against him. Together they have 192 deputies.

So why is he even facing the vote?

Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took the most seats in December’s election, but he declined King Felipe VI’s invitation to try and form a government. He said he didn’t have the support in parliament. That cleared the way for Sanchez as head of the second-biggest party.

But Sanchez doesn’t have enough votes either.

True. But he has some chance of winning that support. Most parties have ruled out backing Rajoy because he and his party are embroiled in an avalanche of corruption allegations (he denies any wrongdoing). Ciudadanos and Podemos are both willing to support the Socialists under the right conditions. Sanchez’s problem is that they won’t do business with each other.

When do we find out?

Sanchez sets out his case from 4:30 p.m. Tuesday in Madrid. The other parties will respond starting Wednesday morning, with the first vote due later that day.

What does Sanchez need to take office?

The support of a majority lawmakers. If, as is expected, he falls short at the first attempt, he’ll get a second shot 48 hours later when the bar is lowered to a simple majority of those who vote. Analysts say it’s still a long shot.

So what’s the strategy here?

Sanchez is betting that he’ll look statesmanlike as he tries to lead the country forward. And that Podemos and the PP will anger voters by being excessively partisan and being seen to block his attempts to find a way out of the impasse. The polls will be key in the weeks ahead.

What’s everyone been doing since the election?

Circling the problem. The need for compromise is pretty new in Spanish politics, so party leaders are learning along the way. Added to that, King Felipe has been on the throne for less than two years and hasn’t had a chance to stamp his authority on the country before being asked to referee the political standoff.

How have markets taken the delay?

Investors have struggled to get a handle on the process. Volatility jumped after the vote, but yields haven’t risen that much with the prospect of more ECB action hanging over the bond market. There are signs that corporate deals are being put on hold until the political situation is cleared up.

Where do we go from here?

Lawmakers have got two months to form a government from the date of the first vote. That means the deadline is midnight on May 2. If there’s no deal by then, fresh elections are triggered. The most likely date for those is June 26.

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