Barring any last-minute surprises, Spain will have a new prime minister on Saturday.
Acting PM Mariano Rajoy, of the Popular Party (PP), will submit to an investiture vote in Congress this week after the main opposition Socialist Party (PSOE) agreed to abstain, rather than voting him down again as it has in the past.
Socialist dissenters could be expelled from party ranks. But doing so would deprive the PSOE of necessary seats
The session is scheduled to begin today and will run into Thursday. That evening, Congress will hold a first vote that Rajoy is expected to lose.
A second vote will take place on Saturday, when Rajoy will only need a simple rather than an absolute majority to win. This is when Socialist deputies will presumably abstain from voting, thereby delivering Rajoy a second consecutive term in office.
His nomination will secure 170 yes votes: 137 from his own party, 32 from the emerging center-right Ciudadanos, and one from the small regional Canaries Coalition.
Rajoy will then be sworn in on Sunday, ending a nearly year-long political stalemate during which Spain has functioned under a caretaker government.
But he will be heading a minority government with no guarantees of stability. This weaker administration will have to seek vote-by-vote arrangements instead of ramming legislation through parliament, as Rajoy did during his first term in office, when he enjoyed an absolute majority.
In the meantime, a deeply fractured PSOE and an increasingly divided Podemos will be fighting one another for supremacy as the main opposition group in Congress.
At the same time, Ciudadanos stands ready to withdraw its own support if Rajoy does not honor the pledges of reform that he made during negotiations this summer with its leader Albert Rivera.
“The PSOE’s decision will facilitate another Rajoy administration, but not its day-to-day operations during a term that is set to be very difficult,” said PP sources on Tuesday, after Rajoy announced that he was officially submitting to an investiture vote.
The decision to abstain on Saturday has split the Socialist Party. For the first time, it is expected that several deputies will break with party guidelines and vote with their conscience.
The seven representatives from the Catalan branch have already announced that they will vote against Rajoy despite the leadership’s instructions to abstain in the second round.
The new prime minister might unveil the names of the members of his new cabinet right after taking the oath of office before King Felipe VI on Sunday. The new ministers could take up their portfolios as early as Monday.
They will not be alone. At least eight more deputies who are close to Pedro Sánchez, the party secretary general who resigned over this issue in early October, are expected to vote against Rajoy as well.
In theory, these dissenters could be expelled from the party, but doing so would deprive the PSOE of necessary seats to remain the second largest force in Congress, delivering that position to the anti-austerity Podemos.
English version by Susana Urra.