Campaign duel between Podemos and PP leaves Socialists stuck in the middle

Left and right are pressuring Pedro Sánchez to choose a post-election partner

Acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy and anti-austerity challenger Pablo Iglesias want to turn the general election of June 26 into a run-off of the original December 20 vote, which yielded a hung parliament. The combat between the moderation and common sense preached by the Popular Party (PP) candidate and the radical leftist policies attributed to the Podemos leader could ultimately leave the Socialist (PSOE) nominee in no man’s land. Pedro Sánchez is feeling the pressure from the recent deal between Podemos and the Communist Party-led United Left, who will run together and could potentially overtake the main opposition party on June 26. Meanwhile, Iglesias has offered Sánchez the chance to run together for the Senate. But the Socialist leader on Tuesday reaffirmed “the PSOE’s autonomous project.”

Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist nominee, with his communications director on the set of Cuatro.
Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist nominee, with his communications director on the set of Cuatro.Carlos Rosillo

Albeit uncoordinated, the PP and Podemos' strategies could turn the Socialist Party into something of a supporting actor. Rajoy and Iglesias want to weaken Sánchez’s position and force him to choose one of them as a potential partner in a post-election alliance. The challenge now for the Socialist leader is to extricate himself from this potential double whammy  and convince voters that the PSOE is a party with a project of its own.

Iglesias’ telephone call to Sánchez to offer a joint Senate run was doomed from the start, but it reflects the emerging party’s strategy for this second campaign.

PSOE sources called this offer “something meant to be publicly aired but not to be actually accepted; simply a marketing ploy.”

Iglesias has finally taken off his mask and his lamb’s disguise

Rafael Hernando, PP spokesman in Congress

Meanwhile, Iglesias is treating acting prime minister Rajoy as his real rival in the upcoming election rather than Sánchez. In a radio interview with the SER radio network discussing his recent deal with United Left, he said that “finally, there is a candidacy that can beat the PP at the election.”

“Some say the PSOE is our adversary. But no, we consider them our allies,” he added. “We continue to reach out to the PSOE because we consider them an ally to govern Spain.”

Pedro Sánchez was swift to react in an interview with private television channel Cuatro. “If Pablo Iglesias had really wanted to end the Rajoy administration, he had an extraordinary chance to do so, but twice he refused,” he said, in reference to his own failed bid to become prime minister, which Podemos did not support at two investiture votes in Congress.

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Good for the PP

For the moment, Rajoy is benefiting from this division within the Spanish left. His messages play to the fear factor, especially now that Podemos has reached a deal with “the old communism.” The acting prime minister describes the coalition of “extremists and radicals” as bad for Spain’s economic recovery.

Rafael Hernando, the PP's spokesman in Congress, has accused Iglesias of being a wolf in sheep's clothing, saying he has now revealed his true nature: "Iglesias has finally taken off his mask and his lamb's disguise," he said.

Hernando called Podemos “the courtiers of communism, Chavismo and Madurismo in Venezuela, which is a failed democracy” linking United Left with “one of the oldest and most stale parties in the world, the Spanish Communist Party.”

He also compared Iglesias’ project for government with the regimes in North Korea, China, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba.

English version by Susana Urra.

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