Spain’s Socialist Party leader, Pedro Sánchez, fell short of the votes needed to become prime minister on Wednesday when both the far left and the outgoing People’s Party rejected him.
Sánchez formed a pact with the liberal Ciudadanos last week after no single party won a majority in the last election.
It is the first time since democracy was restored in Spain that the country needs a coalition government.
The Ciudadanos and the Socialists have 154 seats between them in the lower house of parliament where 176 are needed for a majority.
After losing the vote on Wednesday, Sánchez has one more chance: He is expected to return to the legislature on Friday and ask to form a minority government. That would only work if either the People’s Party or Podemos, an anti-establishment movement on the left, abstained.
No other options
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias urged Sánchez on Wednesday not to “bow to the oligarchs” and negotiate with his party instead.
Even though the Ciudadanos have never been in government before and won forty seats out of nowhere in December by campaigning against the old party system, Podemos sees them as part of the establishment all the same because they advocate liberal economic policies.
Podemos, by contrast, won 69 seats on a platform of left-wing fantasies, from nationalizing major industries to restructuring Spain’s public debt.
A three-party coalition is therefore improbable.
A Socialist-Podemos alliance could win a majority with the support of smaller parties on the left.
Separatist parties from Catalonia would also be willing to support such a government if it agreed to hold an independence referendum in the region, something Podemos supports.
But enabling Catalonia’s secession is a deal breaker for the Socialists. Many Socialist voters prefer a coalition with Podemos, polls show, but the party rightly fears the damage such an accord would do to its own credibility and the country’s.
When Sánchez announced his pact with the Ciudadanos last month, we said it was a smart move. He had outmaneuvered the conservatives, who wanted a similar deal, and dared Podemos, which was never likely to get into power, to make common cause with the right and vote down a progressive government.
It seems we — and maybe Sánchez — underestimated the fanaticism of Podemos.
Unless the far left comes to its senses and abstains on Friday, Spain will probably have to hold reelections. The People’s Party would stand a good chance of winning back its overall majority. And what would Podemos have to show for its intransigence then?