Rajoy Hedges His Bets as King Asks Him to End Spain Impasse

  • Caretaker premier says too early to say if he’ll face vote
  • Rajoy says he’ll start fresh talks with rival parties at once

Caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy accepted King Felipe’s nomination to try and form the next government in Spain while refusing to commit to the constitutional steps that will help break the political deadlock.

Rajoy said there’s no guarantee that he’ll submit himself to a confidence vote in the parliament if he doesn’t have the support agreed ahead of time. Under the Spanish constitution, the post-election impasse can stretch on indefinitely until someone faces a confidence vote. From that point, the parliament has two months to choose a leader before fresh elections are triggered.

“It’s not appropriate to get ahead of events,” he said, when pressed by reporters at a press conference in Madrid over whether he’d face the vote.

After seven months of political deadlock, Rajoy and his rivals are still maneuvering for advantage as the clock runs down on the October deadline to send Spain’s 2017 budget plans to the European Union. The premier, who won the most votes in last month’s ballot, is trying to use the mounting pressure of Spain’s international commitments to force his opponents to let him govern, though his People’s Party has only 137 of the 350 lawmakers in the legislature.

“Spain needs a new government now and that government must be led by the PP if we are going to respect the will of the voters,” Rajoy said. “Everything has to be approved by Oct. 15.”

Rajoy’s rivals want to see him face, and lose, a confidence vote to demonstrate his isolation to the country. They’ve all ruled out offering him support because they say he’s failed to clear up corruption allegations against him and his party. Rajoy denies any wrongdoing. His defense hasn’t been ratified by any third party.

“Rajoy’s attitude is irresponsible,” said Antonio Hernando, the head of the Socialist group in the parliament. “You can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the king, but you can’t tell him ‘maybe.”’

After December’s election produced the most fragmented parliament in Spanish history, a second vote in June saw little change in the overall balance of forces, though the PP was the only major party to increase its support.

The only other party to offer any encouragement to Rajoy has been Ciudadanos, the pro-market reformers who placed fourth last month. Ciudadanos Leader Albert Rivera said his party’s 32 lawmakers are prepared to abstain but they won’t go any further because they’d prefer to see Rajoy ousted.

“It would be a government in minority that won’t want to regenerate or renew itself or fight against corruption,” Rivera said Thursday in a news conference. “If that’s the only solution then we accept it.”

Under Spanish law, the candidate for prime minister needs the support of a majority of lawmakers to take office at the first vote. In a second ballot, 48 hours later, getting more votes in favor than against would be enough.

“The king has already proposed Rajoy to the parliament as candidate, he hasn’t invited him to propose himself,” said Alberto Dorrego, a partner at Eversheds Nicea law firm in Madrid who was previously a staff lawyer in parliament. “It is possible to extend, more or less, the date of the confidence vote. But it has to happen to comply with the constitution.”

Socialists’ Dilemma

Socialist Leader Pedro Sanchez said he won’t allow his 85 Socialist lawmakers to vote outright for Rajoy or abstain. He urged the caretaker prime minister to accept his “responsibility” and put himself forward for a confidence vote.

“Mr Rajoy has to do his job,” Sanchez said. “We can’t be opposition and government at the same time.”

Sanchez himself is in a spot because he risks being outflanked by the anti-establishment group Podemos if he makes any concessions to Rajoy. Podemos’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, said any party that allowed Rajoy to govern would find it hard to carry out its role as his political opposition.

“Nobody doubts that Podemos will vote against the People’s Party,” he told reporters. “There are doubts about what the Socialists are going to do.”

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