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Now what?

Either Pedro Sánchez stops acting inconsistently or he will be responsible for a third election in Spain

Pedro Sánchez at the investiture debate in Congress.
Pedro Sánchez at the investiture debate in Congress.Chema Moya (EFE)

Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez on Wednesday aimed forceful criticism at the policies enacted by the Popular Party (PP)’s Mariano Rajoy during his time in office, and used them as the basis for the impossibility of supporting Rajoy’s bid to be voted back in as prime minister.

However, the tone and content of Sánchez’s speech at the investiture debate appeared more focused on taking a stand within his own party, ruling out any chance of an abstention that might enable the formation of a PP government, rather than offering alternatives that would save Spaniards a third general election in little over a year – which is the worst of the options on the table.

All we can hope for is that Sánchez is not thinking about the polls, but citizens have the right to know what he aims to do

Unlike a state of the nation debate or a vote of no confidence, where the aim is to make a government accountable or to replace it with another one, an investiture session takes place after an election in which voters have already attributed responsibilities to the previous executive, and have expressed their preferences about who should be in power.

As such, while the Socialist Party (PSOE) is right to argue that its proposals are better than those of the PP, the reality is that on two very recent occasions, voters have not validated them. Meanwhile, the combined policies agreed between the PP and Ciudadanos, with 170 seats in Congress, is very close to an absolute majority (176).

It is evident that Rajoy is far from the best candidate to run the country. His lack of initiative and pitiful record on corruption make him far from ideal. Once again he has been unable to offer concessions that might allow the PSOE to abstain at the investiture vote. But as Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera has noted, the (electoral) facts are obstinate, and do not allow for other combinations that might prevent a third general election.

It is legitimate for Pedro Sánchez to refuse to support the PP or even allow it to form a minority government. He has arguments to justify this, and would even be justified if he did not demand anything in exchange for changing his position, not even for Rajoy to stand aside and let another PP candidate take his place.

But it is inexcusable for Sánchez not to come up with an alternative solution. The suspicion is that if he has not done so, it is because he knows that the options left open to him are indefensible: reaching a deal with a hotchpotch of political forces with little in common would be bad; allowing a third election to take place would be even worse. All we can hope for is that Sánchez is not thinking about the polls, but citizens have the right to know what he aims to do.

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If every political proposal should be possible to achieve, this is particularly true in a temporary situation such as this one. Everything that has taken place in Spanish politics over recent months was full of impossible ideas and doomed attempts. That is why Spaniards have gone back to their everyday lives and concerns while their leaders continue to work out all the political unknowns.

And that is why we can no longer accept “no” as [Sánchez’s] only response. Without a proper alternative to a PP government, the sole option left is a grotesque third general election – with no guarantee of a substantial improvement for the Socialists, who lost ground at the first two polls.

Meanwhile, voter unhappiness with parties that fail to resolve anything will only increase.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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