Spain’s Socialists Will Have to Fight on Two Fronts

The right will accuse the Socialists of putting party before country while the far left alleges a betrayal.

Spanish Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez listens during a meeting in Madrid, April 12
Spanish Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez listens during a meeting in Madrid, April 12 (PSOE)

The failure of Spain’s Socialist Party to form a government of the center-left will force its leader, Pedro Sánchez, to fight on two fronts in a reelection campaign that now seems inevitable.

Sánchez proposed a coalition with the reformist Ciudadanos party but failed to win the support of a majority in parliament. Both the conservative People’s Party, which lost its majority in December, and the anti-establishment Podemos movement, which holds the balance of power, rejected the deal.

Unless Sánchez capitulates to the right and enters into a grand coalition with Mariano Rajoy, the caretaker prime minister, after all, new elections must be held in June.

Two fronts

Sánchez will then take flak from both sides.

Rajoy’s conservatives are already accusing him of putting his personal ambitions to become prime minister ahead of Spain’s political stability.

Podemos, on the other hand, will claim Sánchez betrayed the left by proposing a deal with the liberal Ciudadanos.

Neither claim is totally fair, but each has enough truth to it that they might stick.


Rajoy cleverly called for a left-right pact with the Socialists after the election in December denied them both a majority.

He knew very well that his old rivals could not accept. They campaigned against his austerity program of the last four years and have been leaking support to the far left. A German-style grand coalition would do to the Socialists what it did to their counterparts in Germany: left-wing voters there, dismayed by the Social Democrats’ compromises with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, are defecting to the purist Greens.

Similarly, a deal with Podemos was never a straightforward proposition. The young party’s far-left policies, from nationalizing major industries to restructuring Spain’s debt, are unacceptable to moderates in the Socialist Party.

Moreover, Podemos insisted on calling an independence referendum in Catalonia, something both the People’s Party and the Socialists have ruled out in the name of national unity.

Infighting on the left

Sánchez’ strategy is to blame Podemos for the failure. He asked its leader, Pablo Iglesias, to prop up a center-left coalition with the Ciudadanos and Iglesias refused.

“Pablo Iglesias closed the door and threw away the lock,” Sánchez said on Wednesday, adding that by doing so, “he has given Rajoy a second chance.”

But Iglesias could have an ace up his sleeve. Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta reports that the possibility of running on a joint ticket with the formerly communist United Left, which was discussed and rejected before the last election, is back on the table.

Such an alliance would pose a serious threat to the mainstream Socialists, he writes, “which would face the risk of being overtaken as the largest left-wing force.”

It may also be the only thing that can break the gridlock.

Polls suggest that the outcome of new elections would not be very different from December’s. Podemos and the United Left won a quarter of the votes at the time but only one out of five seats in the Congress of Deputies. If they joined forces, they might no longer be punished by the electoral system.

Then again, if the far left won more seats it would probably be at the expense of the Socialists, leaving the left as a whole still short of a majority.

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