Socialist leader proposes forming Portugal-style “progressive coalition”

But Pedro Sánchez fails to say which of Spain’s parties it might include during Lisbon visit

António Costa (l) and Pedro Sánchez in Lisbon on Thursday.
António Costa (l) and Pedro Sánchez in Lisbon on Thursday.Tiago Petinga (EFE)

The head of the Spanish Socialist Party, Pedro Sánchez, whose party came in second in the December 20 general election, has said he will try to create “a great coalition of progressive forces” to lead the country if the winning Popular Party (PP) is unable to form a minority government.

Sánchez made the announcement after meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, a fellow socialist who lost the October election in that country but was able to bring together leftist groups to create an absolute parliamentary majority.

A leftist coalition would violate the decision made by Spaniards at the polls”

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría

Sánchez is appearing to seek a Portuguese-style alliance in Spain, although he did not specify just what parties his offer is aimed at – nor did he explain how he plans to deal with the fact that, even if he manages to bring together all of Spain’s left-wing deputies, it would still leave the coalition short of an absolute majority of 176 seats.

As expected, the December 20 election saw voters split between the two traditional main parties, the PP and the Socialists (PSOE), and emerging forces Podemos and Ciudadanos.

Although the conservatives formally won the ballot with 123 seats, far ahead of the PSOE’s 90, Podemos’s 69 and Ciudadanos’ 40, acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been struggling to secure enough support to get himself reinstated to a second term in office.

Skepticism among Socialist chiefs

Anabel Díez

Socialist regional leaders have pointed out that despite the similarities between Spain and Portugal’s post-election scenarios, there is one essential difference: in Portugal “there are no nationalist parties” contesting the nation’s unity. That is why some Socialist leaders are skeptical about Pedro Sánchez’s notion of a leftist coalition.

However, these sources said that if Podemos and small regional parties with a congressional presence were to give up on their calls for a Catalan referendum, they would not oppose such an alliance.

Political analysts have been discussing all possible permutations, including an unlikely grand coalition between the PP and the PSOE. But so far, this seems out of the question, and Rajoy is already preparing for the very real possibility of fresh elections this year.

“I say no to the grand coalition proposed by the PP, but if Rajoy fails to form a government, then I say yes to a grand coalition for a progressive government in Spain,” said Sánchez following his Thursday meeting with the Portuguese leader.

Yet he would not disclose how he plans to find common ground with three or four other parties that would presumably include the anti-austerity Podemos. The latter’s insistence on Catalonia’s right to hold a referendum on self-rule has deeply divided the Socialist camp, where many regional leaders are directly opposed to such a vote.

In order to attain a leftist majority, Sánchez would also need support from small regional parties that support independence, such as the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and Bildu, a radical Basque party that has been accused of having ties to the banned Batasuna, the alleged political wing of the ETA terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, Podemos leaders seem disinclined to give up on their defense of a Catalan referendum.

More information
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Catalan Socialists call on Podemos to drop referendum demands

“We can talk about absolutely everything, but we have expressed a conviction: whoever fails to understand that we live in a nation of nations, in a plural country, will be unable to build fraternity for a shared project in the coming years,” said the party’s number two official, Iñigo Errejón.

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, of the PP, said that such a leftist coalition “would violate the decision made by Spaniards at the polls.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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