Spanish Socialists Building Bridges With PP Ahead of Vote

  • Sanchez says he was wrong to say Rajoy not fit to govern
  • Socialist heavyweights may renew push to back grand coalition

Spanish Socialist Leader Pedro Sanchez began to rebuild his relationship with the governing People’s Party after accepting that his attempt to oust the caretaker administration had failed -- for now at least.

Sanchez said he’d been wrong to say that Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s ties to a party graft scandal meant he isn’t fit to govern, according to a radio interview Thursday morning. It’s the second day running he’s issued the mea culpa since King Felipe called a halt to coalition talks Tuesday with the negotiations deadlocked.

Pedro Sanchez

Photographer: Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP via Getty Images

The most dramatic moment of the last election campaign came in a head-to-head debate when Sanchez told Rajoy it was “immoral” to have clung to his job after newspapers published text messages of support the prime minister had send to a PP official at the center of a bribery investigation. Rajoy was visibly rattled by the attack and said the comments were “mean, deceitful and pathetic.”

“After giving a lot of thought to it, I think I made in mistake in the way I expressed myself, although not in the fundamental point,” Sanchez said in an interview on Cadena Ser radio. “I still think that Rajoy should have resigned when he sent that SMS.”

With Spain heading for its second election in half a year, Sanchez is trying to keep a lid on dissent within his own party and shore up his position after twice losing investiture votes in parliament. A faction within the Socialist party as well as its pro-market ally Ciudadanos wanted Sanchez to join a so-called grand coalition with Rajoy rather than seek support from the anti-establishment group Podemos.

“If he had said this a few weeks ago it would have helped to unblock the talks,” Francesc Carreras, an emeritus professor of constitutional law at Barcelona’s Autonomous University who helped found Ciudadanos, said in a telephone interview. Sanchez may be thinking “it might help us to get an agreement in two months time,” he added.

On Thursday, Sanchez said he wouldn’t join a coalition with the PP but he was prepared to offer support on issues of national interest.

“The Socialists and the PP represent opposite projects, but that doesn’t mean we can’t reach an understanding on matters of state,” he said.

His shift in tone came after new data showed unemployment rose slightly, increasing for the first time in a year in a first quarter that was marked by a lack of government and failed negotiations between the main political parties to form one. Speaking in Madrid Thursday, Acting Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said it’s important for Spain to have a stable government in place that can keep making reforms and creating jobs.

Polls suggest the result of a new ballot may be little different from December, forcing a fresh round of coalition talks with the economy losing steam and the European Union demanding urgent action on the budget deficit. Podemos could be the biggest beneficiary of a re-run if its leader, Pablo Iglesias, can seal an alliance with the former communists of the United Left. The two groups won 6.1 million votes between them in December compared with 5.5 million for the Socialists.

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