Socialists Risk Christmas Spanish Election by Blocking Rajoy

  • Spain faces possible Dec. 25 repeat vote if deadlock persists
  • Socialist leader Sanchez is refusing to help Rajoy govern

PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez.

Photographer: Pau Barrena/Bloomberg

Will the Socialists dare to steal Christmas?

That’s the question that Spaniards are asking after caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy agreed to face a confidence vote in parliament at the end of this month. The result of that ballot will hinge on whether Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez Castejon sticks to his pledge to oppose Rajoy. If he does, Spain’s electoral calendar means the country’s third election in a year would probably fall on Dec. 25.

“Let’s see if @sanchezcastejon has the guts to send 36 million Spaniards out to repeat elections on Christmas Day,” Xavier Garcia Albiol, leader of Rajoy’s People’s Party in Catalonia, said in a tweet Thursday after the confidence vote was called.

Rajoy is trying to win a mandate from lawmakers after sealing a pact with the liberals of Ciudadanos to support his bid to end eight months of political deadlock. He’s still short of votes though, and needs at least some Socialist lawmakers to abstain if he’s going to finally claim a second term after inconclusive elections in December and June.

If he fails, parliament will be dissolved two months after the Aug. 30 confidence vote. Under Spanish law, there has to be a period of 54 days before the election. Spanish ballots are traditionally held on a Sunday, making Dec. 25 the most likely date.

“This certainly looks like part of the PP’s strategy to get the Socialists to abstain,” said Antonio Barroso, a political analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London. “It’s starting to get crazy now.”

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria denied that an electoral schedule leading to a Christmas-Day ballot was a political ploy to pressure Sanchez. “The calendar is what it is,” she said in a Madrid news conference Friday, adding that a vote was needed to comply with European Union budget rules.

Blame Game

The Socialists are trying to force Rajoy to step aside in favor of someone else from his party. They say the caretaker prime minister’s ties to a PP corruption scandal make him unfit to govern. Rajoy denies any wrongdoing.

Sanchez reiterated that the Socialists would not abstain to allow Rajoy to govern. His party is “the alternative, not a potential ally,” he said in comments Friday to reporters in Ibiza, Spain, adding that if Rajoy is allowed to govern, the Socialists would also vote against any budget proposal.

Rajoy, for his part, says there’s no way he’s stepping aside and if Sanchez maintains his veto then Spaniards will be forced to vote again. The premier says the political stalemate is jeopardizing the country’s economic recovery and stalling efforts to tackle unemployment, while the European Union is demanding further cuts to stabilize the public finances. Spain is due to send its 2017 budget to Brussels by the middle of October.

“I’m optimistic,” PP Deputy Secretary General Pablo Casado said in a radio interview with Cadena Ser. “The Socialists are not going to allow a third election in a year, which Sanchez would end up being held responsible for.”

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