After election victory, Spain’s PM exerts newfound leverage over the opposition

Poor showing of left-wing Podemos puts a damper on its plans for coalition government, while center-right Ciudadanos is now more open to deals with the PSOE

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera with lawmaker Inés Arrimadas on Monday.
Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera with lawmaker Inés Arrimadas on Monday.Álvaro García

Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has become the central figure in the country’s political landscape after winning four elections held less than a month apart.

While his Socialist Party (PSOE) attracted the highest number of votes at national and European elections, and also won many of the local and regional races being contested on Sunday, the fragmented scenario will force Sánchez to reach cross-party deals at all levels of government.

But the outcome of Sunday’s voting has strengthened his hand, and Sánchez now appears to be playing with time, and pressuring both rivals and allies for concessions.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias talks about the election results.
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias talks about the election results.EFE

A weaker Podemos

Before Sunday, the leader of the anti-austerity Unidas-Podemos party, Pablo Iglesias, had been pressing for a national coalition government in which he and other party leaders would control ministries. But after emerging the big loser on “Super Sunday,” Iglesias admitted that his party’s weight is now “modest.” Nevertheless, on Monday he was still insisting that he should enter the national executive.

But the PSOE, which had once been considering this option, has put a damper on the idea. Instead, the party is now pressuring Ciudadanos (Citizens) to reconsider its outright rejection of any kind of deal to support the Socialists.

“We are ready to talk, but our position with regard to forming a government is that it will be a PSOE government; one that is open to independents and progressives, but ultimately a PSOE government,” said the group’s organization secretary José Luis Ábalos on Monday.

PSOE Organization Secretary and acting public works minister José Luis Ábalos.
PSOE Organization Secretary and acting public works minister José Luis Ábalos.EFE

“Let’s hope that certain political groups will not give wings to Vox within the institutions or let them hold the key to municipal and regional governments,” he added, alluding to Ciudadanos, a self-defined liberal party that is part of the ALDE alliance in the European Parliament.

During the campaign race, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera had announced that he was “cordoning off” the PSOE while making overtures to the far-right, ultra-nationalist Vox party.

But on Monday, Ciudadanos said it was setting up a committee to analyze case-by-case alliances, and did not close the door to deals with the PSOE. The party’s new congressional speaker, Inés Arrimadas, gave a 10-minute news conference to announce the creation of the committee.

Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos gives a news conference on Monday.
Inés Arrimadas of Ciudadanos gives a news conference on Monday.Europa Press

“We are going to do things right, sensibly. We are going to think about the general interest of citizens,” she said. Local and regional pacts with the PSOE could be possible in regions such as Castilla y León, Aragón or Murcia. Following Sunday’s vote, its support will be necessary to make José Luis Martínez Almeida of the Popular Party (PP) the new mayor of Madrid.

European pressure

The Socialists know that Ciudadanos cannot expect free support from Vox in key places such as the Madrid region, and that the far-right group will demand a spot in the executive in return for its backing. At regional elections held in Andalusia last December, Vox – which was then entering democratic institutions for the first time – agreed to prop up a center-right government made up of the PP and Ciudadanos.

Rivera is going to Brussels on Tuesday to attend a meeting of ALDE, and he will presumably face added pressure there from his European partners, who cannot understand his attitude when all other liberal parties have been working to isolate the far right, as noted by Ciudadanos’ own top candidate for Barcelona, the former French prime minister Manuel Valls.

On Monday, Pedro Sánchez dined in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is an ally of Rivera’s and who could also pressure the latter not to team up with the far right in Spain.

English version by Susana Urra.

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