After weeks of political stalemate, Spain’s King Felipe VI on Tuesday called on the secretary general of the Socialist Party (PSOE), Pedro Sánchez, to try to form a majority government.
The move came after an initial refusal by acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party (PP) to do so, given his lack of support in Congress ahead of the investiture vote. At a second meeting between Rajoy and the monarch on Tuesday, the latter did not ask the incumbent again.
“I will be taking this seriously,” said Sánchez on Tuesday, calling on the country’s political forces to refrain from vetoing his future plans
“Today we lack the support, but we are waiting for events to unfold,” said Rajoy. “My own and my party’s option is to forge ahead and we are not renouncing a bid for the investiture, but I don’t have the support yet because the PSOE refuses to talk, and I cannot guarantee a stable government for Spain.”
Rajoy was alluding to the fact that Sánchez has repeatedly rejected his offer of a grand coalition between the PP and PSOE. His strategy appears to be to wait in the hope that Sánchez will fail at building an alternative coalition, then repeat his offer.
In the meantime, the Spanish head of state has called on Sánchez to try to form a government following the second round of talks with political leaders after the December 20 polls. Although Rajoy’s PP won the election in terms of number of seats in Congress, the vote left no party with a clear majority.
Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday asked congressional speaker Patxi López for “three weeks to a month” to negotiate a governing deal with other political parties, according to the latter. At a press conference, the Socialist secretary general himself also talked of about a month.
Once he has a deal, Sánchez will ask Congress to call an investiture debate, which could take place in late February or early March. At this session, he will need an absolute majority in the first round of voting, or else a simple majority in a runoff to be held 48 hours later.
If his bid fails, the king could turn to another candidate and ask them to try to form a government. In any case, the Spanish Constitution stipulates that if no nominee is successful two months after the first investiture vote, new elections will be called.
Until now negotiations between Spain’s political forces – including emerging groups Ciudadanos and Podemos – have not spawned any agreements that could lead to the formation of a government – a situation never before seen in Spanish politics since the return to democracy in the late 1970s.
Sánchez announced on Tuesday night that he would immediately begin conversations with other parties with the aim of reaching agreements. PSOE members will be able to give their approval via a referendum, during which they will vote on the content and the participants within the pact. “I will be taking this seriously,” said Sánchez on Tuesday, calling on the country’s political forces to refrain from vetoing his future plans.
The problems of the country, the PSOE chief told reporters, required “responsibility” from all political forces, and no one should put their personal interests ahead of them. “Change is not the property of any political party nor of a leader, but rather of millions of citizens,” said Sánchez, who added that he would try to form “a government of change, one that is progressive and that will introduce reforms. […] All Spaniards should have a place within this change. This change will be for all citizens, or it won’t happen at all.”
As he had warned some time ago, Sánchez waited for Rajoy – who won 123 seats at the December 20 election but fell short of a majority (176) – to first try to find governing partners. But on Tuesday, King Felipe did not repeat his offer to the acting prime minister, given that the Socialist chief had already expressed his willingness to do the same, albeit with conditions. “I have told the king that the Socialist Party is willing,” Sánchez explained. “If Mr Rajoy renounces what we understand to be his obligation, the PSOE will take a step forward and try to form a government, thus taking Spain’s democracy and institutions out of this stalemate.”
From today onward, Sánchez will try to forge this majority with calls to the representatives of the parties “of change.” On this occasion, he has made clear that this will not include the Popular Party, nor nationalist parties that seek independence for the northeastern region of Catalonia, although he said he would speak to them. “I won’t seek their support but I will speak to them to make clear that I do not agree with them,” he said Tuesday.
His insistence that he would not seek support from pro-independence regional parties is due to misgivings expressed by many Socialist officials, who also fear any deal with Podemos. The anti-austerity party has expressed support for a referendum on self-rule in Catalonia.
Sánchez has yet to give a clear answer to Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, who recently proposed a coalition between their two forces and the United Left in which Sánchez would be prime minister and Iglesias his deputy.