Agile Sánchez Seen Putting Together Coalition in Spain

The Socialist Party leader is outmaneuvering both his far-left rivals and the man he hopes to succeed.

If outgoing Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy was waiting for his Socialist Party rival to fail at forming a coalition government, he may have underestimated Pedro Sánchez’s agility.

The left-wing party leader was reported to be close to reaching a deal with the liberal Ciudadanos on Tuesday, which would be the first step toward finding a majority in parliament.

The Ciudadanos and the Socialists do not command a majority between them. Nor does Rajoy’s People’s Party, which went down from 187 to 123 seats in December’s election.

A right-wing pact between Rajoy’s conservatives and the forty members of the Ciudadanos would come close to the 176 seats needed for a majority. But it now seems more likely that Sánchez will succeed in getting the third- and fourth largest parties to support him instead.

Smart move

By joining hands with Albert Rivera’s Ciudadanos first, Sánchez kills two birds with one stone: He calms down nervous centrists in his party, who rightly fear the damage Podemos can do to their own credibility and the country’s; and he dares the anti-establishment movement to reject him in the upcoming parliamentary vote.

Sánchez has until March 5 to fulfill a mandate from King Felipe VI to form a government.

Should the 69 lawmakers of Podemos vote against a center-left coalition, they would make common cause with a People’s Party whose austerity policies they have reviled.

Polls do not suggest either Podemos or the Socialists would gain from new elections. The only trend in the last month has been a shift away from Rajoy to the Ciudadanos.

Not there yet

A Sánchez government is still far from assured.

Although Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias was quick to suggest he was willing to compromise in order to join a Socialist-led administration in the aftermath of the election, his party may yet prefer to keep its hands clean rather than share responsibility for a program that is unlikely to be radically different from the last four years.

The Ciudadanos are not exactly aching to share power with the far left either. The only thing the two have in common is that they want to break with Spain’s old party politics. Ideologically, the Ciudadanos and Podemos could hardly be farther apart.

And then Sánchez needs to keep his voters in mind. Polls suggest they would rather do a deal with Podemos and smaller parties on the left than govern with the Ciudadanos.

Success is far from certain. But the Socialist Party leader is turning out to be a more skilled politician than many, including the man he hopes to succeed, would have given him credit for only a month ago.