Spain's Rajoy faces uphill battle to win MPs' support
By Sarah Morris
Spain’s acting prime minister Mariano Rajoy called on Tuesday (30 August) for rivals to help him secure a second term to avoid another general election and protect the country’s economic recovery.
Eight months after Spain’s political deadlock began, conservative Rajoy is seeking the support of parliament on Wednesday after striking a deal with the small centrist party Ciudadanos (Citizens) and a Canary Islands member of parliament.
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The deal gives him 170 votes in the 350-seat parliament, where his Popular Party has 137 seats, but he is still six short of a majority.
“Spain urgently needs a government,” Rajoy told the Spanish parliament.
“We are receiving many warnings from inside and outside Spain about the need to have a full government as fast as possible. If we don’t, things could turn bad and get worse.”
In an hour-and-a-half speech, Rajoy argued that Spain’s economy was growing at double the eurozone average and creating jobs as a result of the reforms his party has introduced since winning power at the height of the debt crisis in 2011.
He said Spain’s most urgent task was to draw up its 2017 budget to meet the terms of its European Union commitment to cut its public deficit to 3 percent of GDP by 2018.
Little chance of winning
If it failed to meet a 15 October deadline to present its budget to European authorities, Spain could face penalties and a loss in credibility, he warned.
If Rajoy fails to win a majority, a second vote will be held on Friday, when the PP leader needs only a simple majority - more yes votes than no - meaning abstaining or absent MPs could help him remain in power.
His party is calling on historical rivals the Socialists for help, by abstaining in Friday's vote.
However, ahead of the vote, there looked to be little chance Rajoy would win a majority this week.
“We saw a tired candidate with a worn-out project,” Socialist Party spokesman Antonio Hernando told reporters after Rajoy’s speech.
“The Socialists don’t have a single reason to give him our support on Wednesday or Friday.”
“It was a mediocre, blackmailing speech,” said Inigo Errejon, of anti-austerity party Podemos.
Even Ciudadanos members, who have agreed to back Rajoy, were critical of his speech, saying he failed to lay out all the commitments made in their deal.
Ciudadanos agreed to back Rajoy after the PP signed a pre-condition anti-corruption pact and then agreed 150 measures signed on Sunday. They included a pledge to reform the benefits system for workers, help for the self-employed and increased social spending for benefits for families caring for dependant relatives.
“The stability of the government depends on meeting the commitments we’ve signed,” said Juan Carlos Girauta, parliamentary spokesman for Ciudadanos.
Rajoy was booed during his speech when he asked whether rivals wanted a third election.
Alternative to Rajoy
Some leading Socialists have called for the party to discuss whether to let Rajoy govern. The leadership has so far stuck to its “no” to Rajoy but some think the party may change stance later after giving Rajoy a first defeat in parliament.
Podemos wants Sanchez to explore an alternative government to Rajoy. But a Socialist-Podemos coalition would fall 20 seats short of the absolute majority.
While Podemos would be happy to try to pact with regional parties like Catalan nationalists calling for independence, the Socialists are wary and also distrust Podemos after their negotiations with them failed earlier this year.
Rajoy mocked that alternative. “It would be a government of a thousand colours, radical and inefficient,” he said. “It would be endangered by parties … who want to break up Spain.”
On Tuesday, a group of 700 Spanish celebrities took out a three-page advert in left-wing newspaper El Pais calling for a “progressive government” between the Socialists, Podemos and Ciudadanos. They included actors, writers, former judge Baltasar Garzon and singer Joaquin Sabina.
“Although the PP was the most voted party on June 26, most of us voted for a change of government and policy,” said the manifesto. “We shouldn’t allow four more years of impoverishment and increasing inequality, the eating away of important social conquests, the loss of liberties we thought were consolidated, the advance of corruption and the degeneration of democracy.”
If no-one can form a government within two months of Wednesday's vote, Spain will be forced into a third election, which would fall on Christmas Day (25 December) unless the rules are changed.
This week’s cover by satirical magazine Jueves pictures Rajoy holding a gun to baby Jesus’ head: “Make me prime minister or I’ll wipe out Christmas”, says the speech bubble.