Spain’s Parties Go Through Necessary Motions in Talks

The Socialists must explore a coalition they don’t like while the conservative People’s Party bids its time.

Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, answers questions from reporters in Madrid, January 22
Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, answers questions from reporters in Madrid, January 22 (PSOE)

Spain’s Socialist Party leader has little choice but to explore a coalition with the far left, regardless of whether he is serious about such an unprecedented alliance or not.

Pedro Sánchez, whose party won the second most seats in December’s election, must be seen to be doing everything he can to avoid new elections or four more years of right-wing government, the Financial Times argues.

The same is true in reverse for Mariano Rajoy, the caretaker prime minister whose conservative People’s Party lost its majority. He cannot be seen to be trying to form a government and fail. Hence he declined a mandate from King Felipe VI before the weekend to lead coalition talks, even though his party still has a plurality of the seats.

No good choices

Neither the People’s Party nor the Socialists command a majority in the lower chamber of parliament. Nor can either govern with the centrist Ciudadanos alone, which would be the least controversial choice.

Rajoy has proposed a grand coalition of all three parties. The Atlantic Sentinel has argued that such a pact could be disastrous for the left. The Socialists lost twenty of their 110 seats in the most recent election in part because they were seen by left-wing voters as too mainstream.

But a coalition with the anti-establishment Podemos party, which stole most of their voters, would be a risk for the Socialist as well. Many party bigwigs rightly worry that forming a coalition with Podemos would discredit the Socialists in the eyes of centrist voters as well as foreign investors.

The Financial Times reports that some Socialist grandees would sooner topple Sánchez than see their party enter into a deal with Pablo Iglesias, the Podemos leader.

Iglesias called for such an alliance last week, but even with the support of smaller parties on the left the two would be short of a majority, likely requiring at least the acquiescence of the Ciudadanos.

Bidding time

As for Rajoy, he just has to bid his time.

On Saturday, he lambasted the Socialists for even thinking of forming a government that “threatens the unity of Spain.”

Podemos supports a binding independence referendum in Catalonia, where separatist parties govern. The People’s Party and Socialists do not.

Rajoy is confident that the other two will ultimately fail to strike a deal, according to the Financial Times — “at which point he will revive his idea of an alliance with the Socialists or force further elections.”

Polls suggest that the conservatives could win back their majority if new elections were held.