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PP plans campaign centered on Socialist chief to curb Ciudadanos

Conservatives designing presidential-style duel to take votes away from emerging party

Rajoy arrives at the European Council on Monday.
Rajoy arrives at the European Council on Monday. Getty

With Spanish politics in gridlock since December and no new prime minister in sight, the conservative Popular Party (PP) is already working on a new campaign strategy for a hypothetical repeat election on June 26.

Aides to acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy want to cast this fresh vote as “a presidential-style election” between their own candidate and Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, who came in second at the December 20 vote with 90 seats, compared with the PP’s 123.

The PP wants to cast Ciudadanos as an “instrument” of the Socialist Party, given that the two have joined forces

Because no party managed enough voter support for an overall congressional majority of 176 seats, political leaders have been forced to embark on a flurry of cross-party negotiations to build a coalition government, or at least secure enough backing to get one nominee into the prime minister’s office at the helm of a minority government.

But so far all negotiations have failed, putting Spain in the unprecedented situation of facing a repeat election if no successful nominee emerges within the next two months. The countdown began last week, when Sánchez bid for the post but was struck down in two rounds of voting in Congress.

Now, Rajoy’s team will try to win back the disaffected voters it lost to the emerging Ciudadanos party at the December election. It will do so by casting the reformist group as an “instrument” of the Socialist Party, given that the latter two recently joined forces and produced a long program of projects they would implement if given a chance to govern. But the Socialists and Ciudadanos together only command 130 seats in Congress, not enough for a majority. The Canaries Coalition has recently added its single deputy to this alliance.

The PP had originally counted on Ciudadanos for support, but this hope was dashed after Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera decided to join Sánchez instead. Rivera’s impassioned speech at last week’s investiture debate – in which he “launched a missile against the [PP’s] inner circle by asking PP deputies to betray Rajoy and hand over his head on a platter,” in the words of one high-ranking PP official – did the rest.

If the PP has few chances of convincing the Socialists and Ciudadanos to join it in a grand coalition, the Socialists are themselves struggling to find support in left-wing circles. Sánchez’s original idea of a progressive coalition that would include the anti-austerity Podemos has stalled because of a growing confrontation between both parties.

Among other things, Podemos supports a referendum on self-rule in Catalonia, which most other parties in Congress reject, including the Socialists. Political observers have also expressed concern at Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias’ recent statements regarding his desire to control key state agencies if he reaches power, including the intelligence services and the public broadcaster.

The PP, which is reeling under the effects of a seemingly endless raft of corruption scandals, considers that in this scenario, new elections in Spain are “inevitable.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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