King Felipe VI asked Spanish Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday to try to form a government after the outgoing prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, rejected such a mandate last month.
Rajoy’s People’s Party won the most seats in December’s election but lost its majority.
Sánchez’s Socialists, who last governed from 2004 to 2011, also lost seats and came in second.
They have rejected Rajoy’s proposal to form a grand coalition between the two mainstream parties — which would be unprecedented in Spain — and will try to put together a coalition on the left instead.
“From tomorrow on, we will speak to all the political forces,” Sánchez told reporters in Madrid.
No good options
The numbers are not in Sánchez’ favor.
A coalition with the liberal Ciudadanos — the least controversial choice — would fall short of a majority. So would a coalition with the anti-establishment Podemos. A three-party alliance seems unlikely: the only thing that unites the Ciudadanos and Podemos is that they want to break with Spain’s old party politics.
Smaller parties on the left could help bring the Socialists and Podemos closer to a majority. This is what Pablo Iglesias, the Podemos leader, has called for since the elections were held.
But such an all-left pact could only come to power with the acquiescence of the Ciudadanos or the support of separatist parties from the Basque Country and Catalonia.
The second option is unpalatable. Sánchez continuously insists that the unity of Spain is as much as priority for him as watering down Rajoy’s austerity policies.
Podemos, on the other hand, would support a binding independence referendum in Catalonia where separatist parties are in power.
Sánchez has further complicated the process by promising to put any coalition deal to his base for a vote.
This could be a power play on his part. Many party bigwigs are adamantly opposed to governing with Podemos, fearful that the new party is determined to replace them as the leading voice on the left.
Regional bosses have also warned that a coalition with Podemos would damage the Socialists’ standing with centrist voters and international investors.
But polls suggest that Socialist Party members prefer such a deal over a grand coalition with Rajoy.
Podemos‘ economic policies are far to the left. The party wants to nationalize major industries, stop profit-making companies from laying off workers, reduce the retirement age and restructure Spain’s debt. It no longer cals for an exit from the euro, but Iglesias still wants to take Spain out of NATO.