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Fear of fresh election could produce last-minute governing deal in Spain

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s first bid to form a government failed on Tuesday, with another key vote in Congress due to take place tomorrow

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo speaks to the press on Tuesday.
Acting Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo speaks to the press on Tuesday.Ballesteros (EFE)

In Spain, the pressure to reach a governing deal ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote on Thursday has reached a new high after acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez failed to secure enough support to be confirmed as government leader.

Socialist sources said that a repeat election would not necessarily favor them

The growing risk of a repeat election in the fall makes it more likely that the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos will finally strike a governing deal ahead of Thursday afternoon.

At a Tuesday vote that followed a tense two-day debate in Congress, Sánchez received 124 affirmative votes: 123 from his own lawmakers and one from the single representative for a small party from the northern region of Cantabria.

This is far short of the 176 he required for an absolute majority. Sánchez has a second chance on Thursday, when he will only need a simple majority of more yes than no votes. But even this is not a foregone conclusion. If he fails again, there will be a two-month period to find a new candidate, after which Spain will be facing a fresh general election, the fourth in under four years.

Sánchez has been in talks for weeks with Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Unidas Podemos, in a bid to reach a leftist governing deal. But negotiations have stalled and on Tuesday Podemos abstained – a sign that there might still be hope for an 11th-hour agreement before the second round of voting.

In the meantime, other regional parties that could hold the key to Sánchez’s success on Thursday, such as the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), Valencia’s Compromís and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), are also pressuring for a deal to prevent a new election.

Renewed talks

A few hours after the Tuesday vote, acting deputy PM Carmen Calvo phoned Podemos to take up the talks again. Pablo Echenique, a senior Podemos official, said that his party is awaiting the Socialists’ proposals. A meeting is expected for Wednesday.

Podemos leaders have been conveying the message that they are open to last-minute deals, as long as the PSOE offers them something more than “decorative” positions in the future government. After Sánchez cited Iglesias’ wish to be part of the Cabinet as the main stumbling block to an agreement, the Podemos leader this past weekend agreed to step aside.

So far, Sánchez seems unwilling to offer Podemos much more than he has already

Podemos seems to believe that the PSOE wants a repeat election on November 10, although sources at La Moncloa, the seat of government, have denied this categorically. Socialist sources said that a repeat election would not necessarily favor them, as left-wing voters might stay home in large numbers. Spain has had four elections this year already: general, local, regional and European, and an exhausted electorate might be reluctant to go to the polls a fifth time.

So far, Sánchez seems unwilling to offer Podemos much more than he has already, which is a few newly created ministerial positions (with very little executive power, says Podemos) and a spot for a deputy PM who would oversee social affairs. On Tuesday, the Socialist leader said in Congress that the choice for the anti-austerity party is either that, “or voting the same way as the far right.”

Some people who are familiar with Sánchez’s personality believe he is acting this way to get more negotiating leverage. Others feel that he simply distrusts Iglesias and that he really is contemplating a fresh election.

English version by Susana Urra.

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