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Socialists, Podemos seeking last-minute deal ahead of investiture debate

The left-wing party headed by Pablo Iglesias wants ministries and a deputy prime ministerial position in government with acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

Pablo Iglesias (l) and Pedro Sanchez in the Moncloa palace.
Pablo Iglesias (l) and Pedro Sanchez in the Moncloa palace.

Nearly three months after Spain held a general election, acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) is hoping that Congress will entrust him with the formation of a government at a key debate session that begins today.

The PSOE has 123 lawmakers in the lower house of parliament, well short of the absolute majority

Party leaders will take turns at the podium on Monday and Tuesday, after which lawmakers will be asked to cast their vote. Sánchez will need an absolute majority of 176 votes to be successful, failing which a second vote will be held on Thursday requiring just a simple majority of more yes than no votes.

Few analysts are expecting the Socialist candidate to obtain the required support on Tuesday. The PSOE has 123 lawmakers in the lower house of parliament, well short of the absolute majority, and so far the only other party that seems willing to back him is the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos, which has 42 seats in Congress.

But Sánchez and Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias have been locked in a three-month battle over power share. The latter has been insisting on a coalition government with key positions and ministries for himself and other top party leaders. The former has been claiming that such a government would not work because of deep differences over matters of state – including the Catalan crisis.

Sources were not ruling out the possibility that talks would extend to Thursday, when the second and decisive vote would be held

With the investiture session about to begin and the situation in deadlock, Iglesias has taken a step toward unblocking the talks by removing himself from the list of Podemos candidates to a top government job.

Sources from both parties agree that this should lead to an agreement, but at midnight on Sunday this had yet to happen. The PSOE wants to clinch a deal before the Monday session begins at noon. But sources consulted by EL PAÍS were not ruling out the possibility that talks would extend to Thursday, when the second and decisive vote would be held.

Podemos strategists believe that by yielding on this point they now have significantly more leverage to make other kinds of demands

The decision to leave everything to the last minute has been criticized by some within the PSOE, who feel that Sánchez will now be forced to enter into the kind of coalition that he was trying to avoid if he wants to be successful at the investiture vote. But the main goal – getting Iglesias out of the way – has been achieved.

Meanwhile, while upset at their leader’s departure from the front lines, Podemos strategists believe that by yielding on this point they now have significantly more leverage to make other kinds of demands. The anti-austerity party has also given up on heading ministries considered to deal with matters of state: interior affairs, foreign affairs, justice and defense. But Podemos still wants a deputy prime ministerial position, and ministries with some kind of economic clout.

Investiture agenda

J. C., Madrid

Pedro Sánchez will be the first to speak at noon on Monday, when he will explain his proposed governing program to parliament. There will be no time limit on his address.

Congress will reconvene again at 4pm to hear the opposition leaders: Pablo Casado of the Popular Party (66 lawmakers), Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos (57), Pablo Iglesias of Unidas Podemos (42), Santiago Abascal of Vox (24), Gabriel Rufián of the Catalan Republican Left (15 seats, reduced to 14 because of Oriol Junqueras’ suspension), Aitor Esteban of the Basque Nationalist Party (six) and representatives from the Mixed Group.

Each speaker will have 30 minutes for their initial address, plus an additional 13 minutes for replying to queries from the chamber. The session will end at 8.30pm and the debate will be carried over to 9am on Tuesday. A vote will be held at the end of it, and Sánchez will need 176 yes ballots in order to be officially named the new prime minister of Spain. Failing that, a second vote will be held on Thursday requiring a simple majority of more yes than no votes. If Sánchez fails again, the country could be facing a fresh general election in the fall.

English version by Susana Urra.

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