Spain’s Congress chooses new speaker, but no government in sight

Ana Pastor of the Popular Party beat out the Socialist candidate Patxi López in a run-off vote

The Popular Party's Ana Pastor, the new speaker of Congress.
The Popular Party's Ana Pastor, the new speaker of Congress.J. J. Guillén

Spain’s parliament held its inaugural session on Tuesday at 10am, when 350 deputies and 266 senators began voting for the speakers of both houses following the repeat national election of June 26.

Ana Pastor of the Popular Party (PP) became the new speaker of Congress in a run-off vote held in the lower house shortly before noon. With 169 votes, she beat out the Socialist candidate, Patxi López (155), who was the speaker in the previous, short-lived Congress.

“I am happy but concerned. This will not be an easy term,” said Pastor on Tuesday morning.

“I am happy but concerned. This will not be an easy term”

Ana Pastor, acting public works minister

But the new term begins with no clear picture of who will ultimately be the new prime minister. Although the most likely candidate is Mariano Rajoy, who has been at the helm of a caretaker government since the first inconclusive election of December 20, the conservative politician has yet to confirm that he will bid for the post.

Although his Popular Party (PP) emerged the winner on June 26 with 137 seats, it is still well short of the 176 required for a congressional majority. And so far, attempts at building coalitions with other parties have failed – as they did earlier this year, leading to the fresh election.

At a meeting of top PP officials, participants emerged with the feeling that Rajoy is now ready to try to form a minority government rather than attempt a grand coalition with the Socialists (PSOE). Although he did not say so in so many words, Rajoy also suggested that his new government will undergo a generational change.

But the  Socialist leader, Pedro Sánchez, on Monday insinuated that he might be open to attempting a parliamentary majority with Unidos Podemos and regional parties if Rajoy fails in his bid to be reinstated.

“The 17 deputies from Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and Convergència need to be taken out of limbo,” he told a group of aides at a closed-door meeting, in a reference to Catalan nationalist parties.

If no agreements are reached this time round either, Spaniards could be facing a record third election within a year.

In the first address at the newly constituted chamber on Tuesday, María Teresa de Lara, the oldest member of Congress, asked her fellow deputies for a sense of responsibility and to set their sights high.

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Pío García Escudero is the new speaker of the Senate after receiving 151 favorable votes. In the lower house, PP candidate Ana Pastor received 169 votes in the first round, followed by the Socialist Patxi López with 85. This triggered a run-off between the two candidates.

Pastor's candidacy was the result of a preliminary deal with the emerging Ciudadanos party over the speaker of Congress and the makeup of the Mesa del Congreso, the lower house’s governing board.

Under the terms of the agreement, Rajoy put forward Pastor, a veteran party member and trusted aide of his. But her name only came forward after Rajoy’s two other suggestions were struck down by Ciudadanos. One was acting interior minister Jorge Fernández Díaz, who was recently embroiled in a political scandal, and the second was PP Secretary General María Dolores de Cospedal, who is viewed as too partisan.

Meanwhile, Ciudadanos will get two seats on the Mesa, even though its election results (32) did not entitle the party to any. The Socialist Party (PSOE) and the anti-austerity Podemos each get two representatives, while the PP gets three.

This arrangement will only come to pass if other forces in Congress fail to come up with an alternative. This, however, would require a difficult combination of PSOE, Podemos and regional parties that defend independence from Spain in varying degrees.

Relations between the Socialists and Podemos, once considered potential partners in a leftist coalition, have been deteriorating since the December elections. The former have already stated that they will vote for their own candidate to head the lower chamber, Patxi López – who was speaker of the previous, short-lived Congress – rather than for Podemos’ candidate, Xavier Domènech.

 English version by Susana Urra.

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