In Spain, political gridlock increases likelihood of fresh elections – again

With less than two weeks to go until the investiture vote, the Socialist Party is no closer to a deal as negotiations with the leftist Unidas Podemos remain at an impasse

Pedro Sánchez (l) and Pablo Iglesias at their Tuesday meeting.
Pedro Sánchez (l) and Pablo Iglesias at their Tuesday meeting.ULY MARTIN

Long after Spaniards cast their votes in national, regional and local polls, political parties remain unable to reach governing deals, raising the chances of repeat elections. Most political actors describe the current atmosphere as devoid of loyalty, sincerity or trust, while politicians blame one another for a deadlock that could force an exhausted electorate to return to the ballot boxes ahead of time.

At the national level, a Tuesday meeting between acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and Pablo Iglesias of the leftist Unidas Podemos evidenced the divide between two politicians who have been trying to reach a governing agreement since the elections of April 28.

Spanish vote-a-thon

El País

Spain already experienced a repeat election in June 2016, six months after a ballot that yielded a fragmented parliament and no candidate with enough parliamentary support to form a government.

The country has gone through three national elections in under four years, reflecting a new political fragmentation after decades of two-party dominance by the PSOE and the conservative Popular Party (PP). And if no government is formed soon, there will be a fresh national vote in November.

On May 26 of this year, Spaniards also went to the polls in local, regional and European elections. A recent survey showed that citizen concern over the state of Spanish politics is at its highest since 1985.

With two weeks to go before parliament holds a vote to officially appoint the new PM, the Socialists – who won the election but fell well short of an overall majority – are still refusing to consider a coalition government with Unidas Podemos.

The most that Sánchez’s party will consider is the possibility of placing independent candidates “of renown” in a few ministerial positions. As an alternative, Podemos members could be offered mid-level government posts.

But Iglesias – whose Unidas Podemos came in fourth at the election with 42 seats, compared with the PSOE’s 123 lawmakers – views this as insufficient.

“What Spain needs is a leftist coalition government, and we hope to convince the PSOE to be more flexible,” said the Podemos leader following the meeting. “[Sánchez’s] position defending a single-party government goes against what citizens voted for. And I think that sooner or later they will rectify.”

The Socialists quickly issued a reply. “Today’s meeting did not bear fruit; it seems that Iglesias is more concerned about Cabinet appointments than about policymaking,” said Adriana Lastra, the party vice-secretary and congressional spokesperson for the PSOE.

What Spain needs is a leftist coalition government, and we hope to convince the PSOE to be more flexible

Pablo Iglesias, Unidas Podemos

The investiture debate and vote are scheduled for July 22 and 23. On July 23, an absolute majority will be required in Congress for Sánchez to be successful. Failing that, a second vote will be held two days later, with only a simple majority of more yes than no votes required.

According to sources at Podemos, Sánchez has said “that he will take the country to new elections if he does not have enough support at the investiture vote in July.” Lastra has denied the claim, saying that Iglesias is simply not serious about negotiating. But Unidas Podemos apparently feels the same way about the PSOE.

“Pedro Sánchez does not want to negotiate, he is trying to unilaterally impose a single-party government. It is not sensible for the PSOE to act as though it had an absolute majority when it doesn’t,” said a party source.

Unidas Podemos has said it will ask grassroots party members to vote on whether the party should support Sánchez’s investiture bid, whether or not there is a deal. Although the party has more than half a million registered members, only the 190,000 affiliates who are considered active – they have voted before or entered their profile on the party’s website – will be allowed to vote. The poll, which is expected to take place next week or close to the date of the investiture session, is binding under Unidas Podemos’ rules.

Rocío Monasterio of Vox with Madrid assembly speaker Juan Trinidad.
Rocío Monasterio of Vox with Madrid assembly speaker Juan Trinidad.Julián Rojas

Deadlock in Madrid

Spanish politics are not just blocked at the national level. A similar scenario is on display in key regions such as Madrid, where a government is yet to be formed following the May 26 election.

The Madrid regional assembly is about to hold an investiture session without any actual candidate to invest with power, and a repeat election will be held if no cross-party agreement emerges before early September.

On Tuesday, the far-right Vox party informed the regional assembly leader that its 12 lawmakers will not support Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the PP’s nominee to head the Madrid region, at a vote scheduled for Wednesday.

“We are not going to support the [governing] agreement between the PP and Ciudadanos because it is dead,” said Vox’s own candidate to lead the region, Rocío Monasterio. Ever since it burst onto the political scene at the Andalusian elections of December 2018, Vox has been propping up right-wing governments in several parts of Spain without officially joining the executives.

Without Vox’s support, Ayuso has 56 votes (from her own PP and from the center-right Ciudadanos) compared with 64 for the socialist candidate Ángel Gabilondo, who is backed by the PSOE, Unidas Podemos and the leftist Más Madrid group. Neither figure is enough for a majority.

The Madrid assembly speaker, Juan Trinidad, said that the investiture session will be held as planned anyway, in order to officially start the two-month period after which a new regional election must be held if no agreement is reached before that.

A similar story is playing out in the Murcia region, where the PP and Ciudadanos want to head a joint government but need support from Vox, which refuses to play along unless it gets a say in the drafting of governing programs.

English version by Susana Urra.

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