Regional Socialist Party leaders in Spain are starting to question the intransigence of their national leader, Pedro Sánchez, after his rival, the right-wing Mariano Rajoy, failed to win parliament’s support for a third term as prime minister on Friday.
Sánchez and his members voted against Rajoy’s bid to stay in power. So did the far-left Unidos Podemos along with regional parties from the Basque Country and Catalonia.
In all, 180 deputies opposed Rajoy while 170 — from his own conservative People’s Party and the liberal Ciudadanos — backed him.
I argued here last week that Rajoy could only claim a mandate if the Socialists abstained. They wouldn’t need to vote for him, I wrote, but they could simply not vote. In that case, the combined weight of the People’s Party and the Ciudadanos would have been enough to face down opposition from the far left.
“That’s still a big ask,” I argued, and it turned out it was too big of an ask.
Not only are the Socialists uninterested in four more years of right-wing rule; they feel the Unidos Podemos breathing down their necks. The far left would undoubtedly have tried to take advantage of a center-left “betrayal.” They almost overtook the Socialists as the largest party on the left in the last election. Polls for the next one are close.
On the other hand, not allowing Rajoy to stay in power — he has been prime minister since 2011 — and forcing a third election in twelve months could draw the ire of moderate voters.
If Rajoy can’t get the support of parliament for another government, elections must be held again, this time around Christmas. Voters in the middle could blame the Socialists for the impasse and defect to the right.
That is what regional party bosses are worried about. El País reports that a growing number of them feel the time has come for the Socialists to either walk back from their decision to oppose Rajoy or to reach out to other parties to form some kind of coalition government.
“Everybody in the party was clear about what we shouldn’t do, but we now need to think about what we should do, because the country is demanding more from us,” Emiliano García-Page, the president of Castilla-La Mancha, Spain’s central regional, said.
According to El País, his concerns are shared by the heads of the regional governments of Aragón, Extremadura, Valencia and reportedly by Susana Díaz, the Socialist Party chief in Andalusia.
There is no straightforward alternative, however. A coalition with the Ciudadanos, as Sánchez attempted in March, would be short of a majority. As would a coalition with Podemos. The only way to circumvent Rajoy is for the other three parties to work together, but that is unlikely to happen given the ideological differences between them.