Differences among Socialists stall election strategy

Party chief Pedro Sánchez and most regional premiers have not spoken for weeks

PSOE Secretary General Pedro Sánchez.
PSOE Secretary General Pedro Sánchez.ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

The head of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and leading party officials are not discussing ways of preventing a third general election in Spain.

The communication channels between party chief Pedro Sánchez and regional premiers are still open, but nobody is saying anything, reflecting a cooling of relations at the personal and political level.

Extremadura premier Guillermo Fernández Vara

After two back-to-back national elections and nine months of political deadlock, there is mounting pressure on the PSOE to let acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, of the Popular Party (PP), form a minority government. The PP won the most votes at the December 2015 and June elections, but fell short of a congressional majority on both occasions.

But so far, Sánchez has refused to provide this support either actively or passively: at a recent investiture vote in Congress, the PSOE voted “no” to Rajoy’s reinstatement bid. An abstention would have delivered the post to Rajoy in the second round of voting.

With the threat of a third election – on Christmas Day, to make matters worse – looming ever closer, some voices within the PSOE are suggesting that the party should provide this abstention, even if it means helping its traditional opponent. One high-profile proponent of such a move is Felipe González, who was Spain’s longest-serving prime minister and remains a leading figure in Spanish socialism.

Wait until September 25

In the meantime, PSOE leaders are not planning to meet at a federal committee until after Galicia and the Basque Country hold regional elections on September 25. The Socialists are not expected to do well in either one.

Regional premiers consulted by this newspaper confirmed that there’s been no contact with Sánchez “for several weeks.” The exception is Francina Armengol, the head of the Balearic Islands, who has frequent conversations with him.

“It’s probably 50% his decision and 50% mine... He’s got my phone number and I’ve got his, so it’s probably a shared responsibility,” said Extremadura premier Guillermo Fernández Vara. “It’s not good for anybody not to have a flowing communication, but I accept my share of responsibility.”

Vara also noted that “I will continue to be loyal to the secretary general, but loyalty does not always mean simple backslapping, it means being loyal to the organization.”

A Metroscopia survey for EL PAÍS indicates that 50% of Socialist voters disagree with the idea of helping the PP into government.

The survey also shows that if third elections were held, the PP would benefit from low turnout rates and perform even better than in June, while the PSOE would lose some support at the polls.

English version by Susana Urra.