20th Mar 2018

Poll: Third Spanish election won't end limbo

Spain has now spent eight months without a full government, since anti-austerity party Podemos and liberals Ciudadanos ("Citizens") burst into the national parliament, taking a third of seats.

Yet a return to the ballot box would only produce another fragmented parliament, a poll by state-run Centre for Sociological Studies (CIS) showing only Spain's Socialist Party would gain from a third election.

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  • Traditional parties have run Spain since the 1970s, newcomers so far failing to agree on a coalition, even after repeat election on 26 June. (Photo: EUobserver)

Traditional parties that have run Spain since the 1970s and the newcomers have so far failed to agree on a coalition, even after the repeat election on 26 June.

Monday’s poll forecast the conservative People’s Party (PP) would again win the largest share of the vote, slipping to 32.5 from June's 33.0 percent.

The Socialists, the only party to increase their vote, edged up to 23.1 from up from 22.7 percent, retaining second place — ahead of the anti-austerity party, Podemos (“We Can”).

Podemos and Ciudadanos both lost ground; Left-wing coalition Unidos Podemos falling to 19.6 from 21.1 percent percent and Ciudadanos to 12.0 from 13.1 percent.

Growing pressure on Socialists

Carried out between 1 and 11 July , the survey may strengthen the resolve of Socialist Leader Pedro Sanchez, under pressure from rival parties and leading Socialists to facilitate a government led by incumbent prime minister Mariano Rajoy.

Rajoy is seen as the best placed to form a government after winning 14 extra seats in June. Yet 137 seats put him a long way from the 176 needed for an absolute majority – even if he can persuade Ciudadanos' 32 members of parliament to support him in a vote of confidence .

The Socialists have so far refused to even contemplate their 85 MPs voting with, or abstaining from, a vote against their historical rivals. If they do, they risk losing Socialists voters to Podemos.

“The CIS [poll] confirms us as the alternative to Rajoy,” the Socialist group tweeted in reaction.

The PP are pressurising Sanchez and Ciudadanos’ leader Albert Rivera to back Rajoy as prime minister, by the end of August, pointing to a need to approve 2017's budget in order to meet a mid-October deadline with the European Commission.

The European Commission said last month (27 July) Spain may not be fined for not taking “effective action" to bring its budget deficit down to 3 percent of GDP. But the EU Council could still impose levies, up to 0.2 percent of each state's GDP.

Third elections looming

“Third elections would turn us into the laughing stock of Europe,” said Rafael Hernando, spokesman for the PP after the CIS poll. “If the political situation and the opinion of the Spaniards would hardly change, Mr Sanchez and also Mr Rivera need to change.”

Some Socialists have suggested they could more easily abstain if the PP can gain votes from smaller parties and a “yes” vote from Ciudadanos to come closer to 176 seats.

Rajoy has accepted King Felipe VI’s mandate to form a government, but suggested he will not present himself for an unwinnable confidence vote in the parliament.

So far, Ciudadanos has promised that to give Spain a government it will abstain in a second investiture vote – where a larger majority of votes in favour are needed. But, it has ruled out a favourable vote or even entering coalition headed with the PP.

Opposition parties have criticised the failure of Rajoy to face an investiture vote, given Spain’s Constitution sets a two-month deadline from the first vote before an election is automatically called. If no vote takes place, the prospect the country’s political blockage could go on indefinitely, one minister suggesting the parliament could be dissolved without such a vote.

Rajoy still the favourite

Most analysts think rival parties will eventually accept a PP government, with Rajoy as its leader. Rajoy's position is shaky, considered by rivals to have done little to investigate allegations of party slush-funds.

“Despite the apparent trench warfare between all the parties, it’s increasingly probable for a precarious legislature to get under way without third elections,” said Pablo Simon, a political science lecturer at the Carlos III University

Regional parties like the Basque National Party, so far, have said they will not support Rajoy – even if they backed his party in the 1990s – as they're unlikely to risk upsetting voters before elections in the Basque region on 25 September.

Beyond an investiture vote, though, the PP will have to strike deals in order to be able to pass reforms. It governed for the last four years with an absolute majority, when it introduced many laws by decree.

Analyst Simon says the PP’s rivals should now take advantage of the fact that MPs will play a role in lawmaking. Though they may not be able to always agree on economic issues, the Socialists, Ciudadanos and Podemos voted together in parliament in 63 percent of the December-June parliament, he says. “This is the first time the opposition can, if it wants, set the pace from the parliament.”

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