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Rajoy may offer PSOE constitutional change in exchange for abstention

But Socialists are unwilling to do any kind of deal to see PP leader voted back in as PM

The winning candidate, Mariano Rajoy, appearing after the ballot on Sunday.
The winning candidate, Mariano Rajoy, appearing after the ballot on Sunday. REUTERS

Mariano Rajoy wants a second term in the prime minister’s office, but he will have to make some unprecedented concessions to achieve this goal.

Spaniards gave his Popular Party (PP) a victory at the Sunday election but the vote was highly fragmented, with four forces securing strong positions in the national Congress.

The conservative leader, who holds 123 seats in Congress (short of the 176 required for an absolute majority), wants to lead a minority government, but first he needs to get himself reinstated, and that is already proving an uphill battle.

The PP is expecting the Socialists to play hard to get but prefers that to an alternative leftist government

Sources familiar with the situation said that Rajoy will offer the Socialist Party (PSOE) leader, Pedro Sánchez, the possibility of making constitutional reforms in exchange for his party’s abstention at the investiture vote. A Socialist could also become speaker of the lower house, reflecting the fact that this party came in second on Sunday with 90 seats.

Any changes to the 1978 Constitution would likely include a modification of article 135 to reinforce the welfare state.

Acting Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría has emphatically denied that Rajoy is going to make any such concessions. What’s more, the Socialists yesterday expressed their flat out refusal to support the Popular Party leader. “Not in the first nor the second vote are we going to support Mariano Rajoy,” the Socialist spokesperson Antonio Hernando told EL PAÍS on Tuesday. “If we vote for Rajoy we will have lost the trust of Socialist voters.”

But the PP leader is “very concerned” that the congressional gridlock might project an image of instability to the world and the markets, said government sources.

If Rajoy does not secure enough support and no other strong prime ministerial nominee emerges, the country could face new elections in early 2016.

The conservative leader is also warning against a hypothetical alliance of “the losers of the left” to form an alternative government. This would require a multi-party coalition of the Socialists, the anti-austerity Podemos and several regional parties.

The acting prime minister has already met one-on-one with Sánchez to test the waters, and before Tuesday he will meet with Albert Rivera, leader of the emerging party Ciudadanos, which secured 40 seats on Sunday.

So far, Rivera seems more open to the idea of abstention at Rajoy’s investiture vote.

The PP is expecting the Socialists to play hard to get, and try to extract as many concessions as possible before agreeing to a last-minute abstention, but “we prefer that if it means avoiding a government of the PSOE with Podemos and 11 more parties, which would be very negative for Spain,” said two high-ranking PP officials.

English version by Susana Urra.

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