Spain faces weeks of coalition horse-trading after Socialist victory

Spain faces weeks of coalition talks after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists won snap elections without a majority, splitting the right-wing bloc but letting ultra nationalists into parliament.

With the country set to return to the polls on May 26 for regional, local and European Parliament elections, politicians’ appetite for clear commitments was muted Monday and a new government is not likely to be formed before June.

“We should wait and see what will happen in the municipal elections…in many regions and of course in the European Parliament,” the president of the Socialist party told Spanish public radio.

“There is no hurry…we are still campaigning,” she added.

The Socialists came first in Sunday’s snap polls, winning 123 seats out of 350, or close to 29 percent of the vote — short of an absolute majority but much better than the 85 seats it got in the last election in 2016.

Nearest rivals the main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) bagged just 66 seats compared to 137 in 2016, its worst showing in over two decades.

Conservative votes were split among two other parties, center-right Ciudadanos and ultra-nationalist Vox party, which won just over 10 percent of the vote in a country that has had no far-right party to speak of since the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

The three rightist parties together have 147 seats, far from the 176-seat majority in the 350-seat parliament needed to govern.


‘Enough support’

Sanchez, who came to power in June after ousting PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote, has several options to govern.

He could try to rule on his own as he did during the ten months that he was in power with the backing of far-left Podemos and smaller regional groupings.

“We will try,” Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told news radio Cadena Ser.

“We think we have more than enough support to be the rudder of this boat which should continue its journey,” she said.

The support of Podemos is a given. The party was weakened in the election, winning 42 seats compared to 67 in 2016, and is not in a position to dictate conditions.

The Socialists could rely on several other smaller regional parties without the support of Catalan separatists.

All Sanchez would need is for Catalan separatist lawmakers to abstain in the second round of an investiture vote when only a simple majority is needed.


‘Public danger’

Sanchez could also try to form a coalition with Podemos and the more moderate of Catalonia’s two separatist parties, the ERC, which together would provide a majority in parliament.

But the separatists have proven unreliable allies. Sanchez was forced to call the election after they in February joined the PP and Ciudadanos in opposing his draft 2019 budget.

Conservative parties have accused Sanchez of being a “traitor” for trying to engage with the separatists to try to ease tensions over Catalonia’s failed bid to break away from Spain in 2017.

Sanchez could also try to cosy up to center-right Ciudadanos, which won 57 seats. Together, they would form an absolute majority but voters from both parties would likely frown on such a move.

“With Rivera no!” Socialist supporters chanted outside of the party’s headquarters on Sunday night as a beaming Sanchez delivered his victory speech.

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera built his campaign on disparaging Sanchez, criticising his attempts to negotiate with the Catalan separatists.

Senior Ciudanos leader Ines Arrimadas told radio Onda Cero on Monday her party could not ally with Sanchez, calling him a “public danger, someone capable of anything” to stay in power.

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