Support for the right-wing minority government of Mariano Rajoy is shaping up to be the most divisive issue in the Spanish Socialist Party’s leadership contest.
Patxi López, a former regional president of the Basque Country, announced his candidacy this week saying it had been a “mistake” for the Socialists to allow Rajoy to stay in power.
Speaking to reporters in Madrid, López called for a “return to the basics of socialism” and proposed to take a hard line against the government that came to power in October, when his party abstained in a confidence vote.
The former Socialist Party leader, Pedro Sánchez, was forced out by moderates that month for resisting Rajoy.
Local party bosses, led by Susana Díaz, the powerful regional president of Andalusia, worried that the Socialists would be blamed for blocking the formation of a government — any government — one year into a political impasse.
The left of the party found an accord with Rajoy harder to stomach and warned it could lead to more defections to the far-left Podemos. The Socialists only narrowly beat the anti-establishment movement into third place in the most recent election.
But neither the Socialists nor Rajoy’s People’s Party won an outright majority in elections in 2015 and 2016. Had the Socialists not abstained in October, a third election would have been necessary.
Díaz is now expected to stand for the leadership herself. She would enjoy the support of the party machine.
Sánchez may also throw his hat in the ring. If he does, that could split the purist vote to the benefit of Díaz and the center-left.
Whoever wins will inherit a party that is deeply divided.
Around a dozen Socialist deputies stuck with Sánchez through the end and voted against Rajoy’s confirmation. They were punished by the leadership.
Preparations are underway to exclude the Socialist Party’s Catalan affiliate, which also voted against Rajoy, from the federal party congress in June. That could make it easier for Díaz to win the leadership vote, but it would also make it likelier that the Catalans split permanently and group with the far left instead.