Tense investiture session signals tough term ahead for Spain’s Rajoy

Acting PM wants to negotiate national issues, but PSOE set on tough opposition stance

Acting PM Mariano Rajoy addressing Congress on Thursday.
Acting PM Mariano Rajoy addressing Congress on Thursday.Juan Carlos Hidalgo (EFE)

The investiture session to vote Mariano Rajoy in as new prime minister of Spain suggests that while the country has narrowly avoided a third election, the coming months will be fraught with difficulties.

Speaking in Congress on Thursday morning, during day two of the investiture session, the spokesman for the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) made it abundantly clear that his party will help Rajoy into office by abstaining at the investiture vote simply to end a 10-month political deadlock – not because they believe in him.

You will have to stop being the Rajoy that we are all accustomed to

PSOE spokesman Antonio Hernando

“It was either abstention or elections. Let nobody be fooled. The chamber’s options were reduced to abstention or elections,” said PSOE spokesman Antonio Hernando, alluding to his party’s controversial decision to abstain in the second round of the investiture vote on Saturday.

“Mr Rajoy, we don’t like you as prime minister, but we do like this country and the democracy that we have,” added Hernando. “Today, Spain needs us, and peoples’ problems cannot remain blocked because of the selfishness of any one party. There are more than enough reasons not to trust you, but there is no reason to keep up the deadlock.”

Spain has been under a caretaker government since elections on December 20, 2015, which yielded a fragmented parliament. The PP won the most votes but fell short of an absolute majority, and an attempt by the PSOE and the anti-austerity Podemos to build an alternative leftist coalition came to nothing. A repeat election on June 26 yielded similar results.

On Thursday, Hernando mentioned the failed attempt at a leftist coalition in a bid to counter Podemos’ current claims that the PSOE is selling out to the PP conservatives.

PSOE spokesman Antonio Hernando underscored the differences between his party and the PP.
PSOE spokesman Antonio Hernando underscored the differences between his party and the PP.Javier Lizón (EFE)

He also noted that Rajoy’s new minority government will no longer enjoy the same latitude to enact policies as it did when it had an absolute majority.

“You will no longer dominate parliament at will. You will have to debate and negotiate everything you bring to the floor, if you want to see it passed. It will not be easy, because you will have to stop being the Rajoy that we are all accustomed to,” said Hernando.

An extended hand

Rajoy is already keenly aware that getting legislation passed will be trickier this time around.

At the opening of the investiture session on Wednesday, the acting PM made a point of reaching out across the aisle to offer “negotiating all decisions” during his upcoming tenure.

Rajoy mentioned eight major issues that he is ready to discuss with the Socialists and the emerging reform party Ciudadanos. These topics include jobs, education, pensions and the fight against corruption.

I’m sorry but I have more in common with you than with the separatists

Acting PM Mariano Rajoy to the PSOE

His overtures were aimed at the two parties that have agreed to help him into office at a vote scheduled for Saturday: Ciudadanos through an affirmative vote from its 32 deputies, and the Socialists through an abstention by at least 11 of their MPs.

Rajoy did not go into specifics, aware that his views on some issues clash with those held by the PSOE and Ciudadanos.

But on Thursday, in his reply to Hernando, Rajoy warned that “not having a government is just as bad as having a government that is unable to govern.”

“I will do what I can. I will try to reach deals. I will do everything in my power,” he pledged.

And in contrast with the Socialist speaker’s efforts to distance his party from the PP, Rajoy sought to underscore their similarities.

“It is not good to demonize your adversary because, among other things, Europe sets out a framework for us,” he said. “We agree on many things, but most especially on the important ones. I’m sorry but I have more in common with you than with the separatists.”

Vote on Saturday

The investiture debate will continue throughout Thursday, when representatives for every group in Congress will have a chance to speak. A preliminary vote will be held at around 7pm, but Rajoy already knows he will lose this round as he needs an absolute majority of yes votes that he currently lacks.

On Saturday, all that will be required is a simple majority that the PSOE has pledged to deliver by abstaining – a painful decision that has fractured the party. For the first time, some Socialist deputies are threatening to break with instructions and cast a conscience vote against Rajoy.

English version by Susana Urra.

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