Chasm Between Allies Thwarts Socialist Bid to Govern in Spain

  • Three-way meeting failed to lay foundation for detailed talks
  • Lawmakers face May 2 deadline to choose a new government

The pro-market group Ciudadanos and anti-austerity Podemos both want to back a Socialist government in Spain. They just can’t see a way to do it together.

After Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez brought his two potential allies together for talks in Madrid Thursday, both groups emerged frustrated, pouring cold water on his attempts to forge a three-way alliance to oust caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Ciudadanos’s chief negotiator Jose Manuel Villegas said his party couldn’t entertain the increases in public spending that Podemos is demanding. Podemos’s leader Pablo Iglesias said Sanchez is too closely wedded to the policy program he signed with Ciudadanos in February.

“It seems like the Socialists went to the land of Ciudadanos and got their passports confiscated so now they can’t leave,” Iglesias said at a press conference in Madrid Friday. “We left the meeting very disappointed.”

Iglesias said he’ll ballot Podemos members April 14-16 on whether to support the Socialist-Ciudadanos program or stick to his original proposal of a progressive alliance which excludes the pro-market group (and can’t form a majority in parliament). Iglesias said he’ll be voting against an alliance including Ciudadanos, dealing a blow to Sanchez’s hopes of a reaching a pact before the May 2 deadline.

“Podemos has closed the door to a government formed by the parties of change,” Socialist negotiator Antonio Hernando said Friday.

New Elections

Without a deal, Spain is facing a repeat election in June. The previous ballot in December produced a divided assembly with only the Socialists and their historic rivals, Rajoy’s People’s Party, able to form a two-party majority. Spanish lawmakers have been wrangling over a new coalition ever since.

“There’s little common ground and it doesn’t make much sense stretching this out,” Villegas said in an interview with Onda Cero radio Friday. “It’s not good to generate false expectations.”

Sanchez has also been holding talks with Iglesias since the Easter break in a bid to add the support of the party’s 69 lawmakers to his pact with Ciudadanos. When the three parties met for the first time Thursday, Podemos turned up with a 20-point proposal that included a guaranteed income for families below the poverty line and a plan to increase public spending by 62 billion euros ($71 billion) over four years. Ciudadanos insisted their pact with the Socialists must be the basis for talks.

Negotiations have been complicated by political and personal friction between the party leaders. Last month Iglesias riled Socialist lawmakers by bringing up their party’s involvement in the assassination of ETA terrorists by the security forces in the 1980s.

On Wednesday, he clashed with Rivera, labeling the Ciudadanos leader Rajoy’s “brother-in-law” because of their parties’ similar stances on the economy and Catalonia. Rivera retorted that Podemos was hiring “the friends and girlfriends” of its leaders.

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