Spanish Socialists Offend Parties They Need to Govern

The Socialists need to do a deal with either the conservatives or the Catalans. So they insult both.

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez speaks at a congress of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in Huesca, October 1 (PSOE/Eva Ercolanese)

Last night, I argued the problem in Spain is that the country has a multiparty system but the two major parties, the Socialists and the conservatives, still have a two-party-system mindset.

Look no further than José Luis Ábalos, organizational secretary of the Socialist Party, who on Monday insulted the very parties his needs to form a government.

Two options

The Socialists placed first in repeat elections on Sunday but still fell short of a majority. They now have 120 out of 350 seats in the lower chamber of Congress, down three. The conservative People’s Party placed second with 88 seats, up from 66.

Given that the far right holds 52 seats and the center-right Citizens fell to a mere ten, the only two realistic options for a majority are:

  • A grand coalition of the Socialists and People Party’s (208 seats)
  • A multiparty coalition of the Socialists, far left and Catalan independence parties (178-181 seats)

The second could be supplanted with other regional parties, from the Basque Country and Canary Islands, but a coalition of left-wing and regionalist parties without the Catalans would not have a majority.

Not strategic

You would imagine the Socialists want to keep their options open and aggravate neither the People’s Party nor the Catalans.

Indeed, Pedro Sánchez, the party leader and caretaker prime minister, has merely called on other parties to “act generously and responsibly to unblock the political situation in Spain.” He hopes to persuade the People’s Party to abstain from his investiture, so he can form a minority government.

Others in the party have been less strategic.

Ábalos ruled out sharing power with the conservatives, saying,

We’re not going to bet on a grand coalition government with a right that doesn’t shoulder its responsibilities.

The Socialists blame the People’s Party for criticizing their approach to the Catalan independence crisis when they supported the People’s Party’s policy the last time it was in power. The conservatives suspended Catalonia’s autonomy in 2017 to deal with the aftermath of an unsanctioned independence referendum.

Ábalos also said his party hopes to avoid having to rely on the support of Catalan nationalists. Which means their only alternative is a deal with the People’s Party, which he just accused of shirking its responsibilities.

Bad timing

It’s not that Ábalos is wrong. The People’s Party deserves blame for first ignoring and then clamping down on the Catalan independence movement, which only made it more determined. The Socialists, at least, have argued for dialogue. (Although no dialogue has taken place.)

But there is such a thing as picking one’s battles. The election is over. The Socialists now need to convince other parties to support them. Ruling out two options (a grand coalition and a deal with the Catalans) only one day after the election and then offending your most likely partner for good measure is not the way to do it.