Conservatives Stand by Mariano Rajoy Despite Losing Vote

  • PP says Rajoy’s candidacy unquestioned as third ballot looms
  • Liberal allies say PP needs a viable canditate to end impasse

Spanish conservatives rallied behind caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy despite his loss in a second confidence vote in parliament, which extended a political impasse and increased the chances of a third election as rival parties questioned his legitimacy.

The People’s Party is backing the 61-year old leader, Secretary General Maria Dolores Cospedal said Saturday after an executive meeting of top party officials. She said the conservatives will continue seeking to form a government even after Rajoy was defeated 180-170 in a confidence vote on Friday as Socialist lawmakers ignored his plea to stand aside while his liberal allies called for a “viable” candidate.

Mariano Rajoy speaks at the parliament in Madrid on Sept. 2.

Photographer: Antonio Heredia/Bloomberg

“There is strength and unity when it comes to our candidate, Mariano Rajoy,” Cospedal told reporters. “Our proposal was and continues to be the most viable, moderate and rigorous when it comes to the general interest of Spaniards.”

Spain is struggling to end an eight-month political impasse that started when a first round of elections in December failed to produce an outright winner. Political parties have until the end of October to reach a deal that will allow a government to form as Rajoy ratchets up concerns about the impact the deadlock could have on Spain’s economic recovery.

Speaking at a separate rally, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, who has repeatedly rejected offers by the People’s Party to abstain as a way to clear the impasse, insisted his party would never back a candidate such as Rajoy.

The Socialist leader also called into question the caretaker government’s decision to nominate former minister Jose Manuel Soria to represent Spain at the World Bank. Soria quit the Rajoy administration after his name appeared in the so-called Panama Papers, which revealed details about the offshore financial accounts of many politicians.

“Spain needs a government urgently, but also a government that is clean, fair and engaging, and that will never be that of Rajoy, ” Sanchez said. “He pointed at us for his failure with one hand, and named Soria as a candidate for the World Bank with the other. ”

Soria’s appointment was announced on Friday, shortly after the confidence vote ended, in an e-mail from the Economy Ministry headed by Luis de Guindos, a personal friend of Soria. While the PP publicly defended the decision, arguing the World Bank role is an administrative post and Soria met the criteria, several PP lawmakers distanced themselves from the official party line on Saturday.

The regional president of Madrid, Cristina Cifuentes, said those who took the decision would have to explain it, while the regional leader of Castille-Leon, Juan Vicente Herrera, said his opinion of Soria could “be better.” His number two, Rosa Valdeon, tweeted she was “ashamed” by the move and described it as hurtful for the “majority” of PP supporters.

Needs Government

In his speech on Friday, Rajoy argued Spain needs a government led by his People’s Party so that it can protect its economic recovery, pass a budget and meet obligations agreed with the European Union to bring down its budget deficit. The conservative leader said going to the polls for the third time would be a big price to pay for the average Spaniard. “Going to the ballot boxes in December won’t repair the lack of a budget or the lack of compliance with Europe,” he said.

Before the vote, Sanchez repeated his position that Rajoy doesn’t command the confidence of his party, the second-biggest group in parliament after the PP. Meanwhile, the leader of pro-market Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, said his party would be willing to support a PP candidate that is “viable” and committed to a reform agenda. Anti-austerity group Podemos joined the Socialists in their no vote.

“The responsibility of members of parliament of the political groups for change is to offer a solution to the country,” Sanchez said in his speech. “If we all act with high-mindedness and generosity, I’m convinced that we’ll find that solution, and undoubtedly the Socialists will be part of that solution.”

Regional Ballots

Regional elections in the Basque Country and Galicia on Sept. 25 will dominate the political calendar for the next three weeks, making early progress on any compromise difficult.

In the Basque region, polls suggest that the ruling Basque Nationalist Party may need the support of other groups such as Rajoy’s PP or the Socialists to stay in power. In theory, an agreement by the PNV’s five lawmakers to support Rajoy would give the PP 175 seats in the national parliament, just one seat short of an outright majority.

In Galicia, the question is whether the PP can keep sway in a region that has been one of the party’s traditional fiefdoms. Left-wing groups including the Socialist party will also be exploring how they can combine their support to take power in Rajoy’s home region.

“The Basque Country and Galicia will give a fresh test of the strength of Rajoy and Sanchez to stand by their current positions,” said David Pac Salas, a sociology professor at University of Zaragoza. “A possible solution for the deadlock can be reached once the regional elections happen.”

If the parties fail to reach a settlement by the end of October, the calendar set out in Spanish electoral law means a third election could fall on Dec. 25. A Christmas ballot would probably help the acting prime minister because PP voters have historically been more likely to turn out than supporters of other parties. Still, the PP as well as Socialists are already exploring alternatives to move the election date.