Tuesday

6th Dec 2016

Spain braces for Christmas election

  • Leaders of the four main parties Rajoy, Sanchez, Rivera and Iglesias (from left to right) are still looking for ways to form winning coalitions. (Photo: Podemos/Flickr)

Spaniards are bracing themselves for a Christmas election after caretaker prime minister Mariano Rajoy failed to win parliamentary backing to form a government.

The conservative leader lost votes on Wednesday and Friday last week – the second time the parliament has rejected a leader’s bid to become prime minister since a December general election delivered a fragmented parliament.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

In March, the leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE), Pedro Sanchez, also failed to win a parliamentary majority. Spaniards voted in a repeat general election in June after a two-month deadline to form a government expired.

Rajoy’s defeat in Friday’s vote has triggered another two-month deadline for a candidate to win a majority: if no-one can do so by 31 October, king Felipe will dissolve the parliament for a third general election in just over a year.

Opinion polls suggest a third vote would deliver a similarly fragmented parliament. Turnout could be low since it would fall on 25 December, the day after Spaniards have Christmas dinner, kicking off a festive period that finishes with Epiphany on 6 January.

“Voting at Christmas would be absolutely ludicrous,” said Antonio Lopez, a pensioner having a cup of tea at a cafe in Madrid. “Both Rajoy and Sanchez should step aside. That’s the real way to solve this. We need new leaders to negotiate.”

Lopez voted in December and June for Ciudadanos (Citizens), a small centrist party that won seats in the national parliament last year for the first time. It reached deals with both the Socialists, in March, and the conservative People’s Party (PP), in August, to support both confidence bids. Lopez said he would vote for the party again if a third election is called.

Ciudadanos’ leader Albert Rivera apologised on behalf of his party for the failure to form a government in the last eight months.

“I’d like to say sorry for not having convinced these old parties to reach an agreement,” he told parliament on Friday. “I’m not ashamed of saying to our compatriots that I feel part of the failure of this house.”

Not all Ciudadanos voters are impressed with the party’s support for the PP and the Socialist premiership bids.

Ciudadanos, the fourth largest party in the parliament, lost eight seats at the June repeat election, falling to 32, as many voters switched back to the PP, the only party to increase votes and seats in June.

Ana Molina, a 34-year-old Spanish-Venezuelan, having a drink in the same cafe, says she will switch back to voting Socialist after the Ciudadanos deal with the PP. “I wanted an option in the centre,” not a vote in support of the right, she said.

Regional factor

The collapse of Rajoy’s bid sends the politicians back to the drawing board. Most analysts think the king will not nominate a new candidate to seek the backing of parliament until after regional elections in the Basque and Galicia regions on 25 September.

If the Basque Nationalist Party needs the support of the PP to continue running the Basque region, it could lend its five votes to the PP in the national parliament in Madrid, leaving the PP one vote short of the 176 seat absolute majority.

“Whatever happens, Rajoy will not offer up his head – he’s of the firm conviction that he won the elections and should remain prime minister,” said Sebastian Mariz, from Fipra, a political consultancy.

“If the PP doesn’t win in Galicia [a party stronghold], I don’t think they’ll seek another investiture vote. I think they’ll go to third elections.”

Mariz thinks there is a 75 percent chance of getting a government without a third election. The PP is banking on a last-minute abstention by the Socialists before the 31 October deadline.

Some Socialists have questioned the stance of their leadership to reject Rajoy since they have 85 seats, compared with the PP’s 137. An alliance with left-wing newcomers Podemos alone would leave them 20 seats short. Many Socialists distrust the radical Podemos and rule out a pact with Catalan separatist parties.

A three-way Socialist-Podemos-Ciudadanos pact would deliver a 188 seat majority but has so far looked unlikely. Podemos and Ciudadanos have in the past ruled out being part of the same government.

But on Saturday, Sanchez seemed to reach out to the two parties. “How many more reasons do the forces of change need to reach an agreement and end the failure of the Rajoy government?” he asked at a rally in Galicia.

His appeal to Podemos and Ciudadanos, which have both promised to clean up politics, came as the the caretaker government announced on Friday that it was proposing former industry minister Jose Manuel Soria for a €226,500-a-year post to represent Spain at the World Bank.

Soria resigned in April after being named in the Panama Papers for having links to an offshore company on the British island of Jersey.

Frustration

Some analysts believe the chance of a repeat election has increased since last week's parliamentary debates.

“Rajoy’s harsh tone against Sanchez and his party in the investiture bid has probably reinforced the Socialist leader’s internal position and his rejection of Rajoy,” said Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research for Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy.

“Part of the PSOE leadership seems to believe that a third election would dent support for Podemos and put the Socialists in a stronger position.”

As the political impasse drags on, voters are frustrated. “I’m undecided as to who I’d vote for,” said Alvaro Perez, sharing a drink with Ana Molina. “I’ll be watching out for changes, for any potential deals, but I’ll only vote again if I feel my vote is really useful.”

Countdown to Italy's future

The long-running campaign for Sunday's referendum has wrapped up, but market jitters and the rise of euroscepticism risks Italy's shaky post-recession growth.

Interview

Polish government in bid to defund NGOs

Ruling Law and Justice has promised to overhaul the NGO sector. The move could strain relations with Norway, a major donor to Polish civic life.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  2. CESICongress Re-elects Klaus Heeger & Romain Wolff as Secretary General & President
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  4. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  5. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  6. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  7. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  8. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  9. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  10. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  11. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  12. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)

Latest News

  1. EU ministers approve 'Juncker plan' extension
  2. Commission tries to revive GMO opt-out proposal
  3. Merkel calls for Muslim veil ban
  4. Russia pipeline is security 'threat', US diplomat says
  5. Brexit deal must be done by October 2018, says EU negotiator
  6. Rising to the challenge of 'European Angst'
  7. Polish firm sues EU Commission over Gazprom privileges
  8. ID and police checks await all who enter and leave the EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  2. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World
  3. Swedish EnterprisesNew Rules for EU Anti-dumping Measures
  4. European Jewish CongressTakes Part in Building Resilient Communities
  5. UNICEFUniversal Children’s Day: UNICEF Calls for Global Action on Child Rights Violations
  6. Counter BalanceThe EU Bank Cannot be a Key Player in Europe's Response to the Plight of Refugees
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEvidence of Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Crimea
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Failed Military Coup in Turkey & The Mass Purges
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Climate Solutions at COP22 in Marrakech
  10. Counter BalanceNGOs Call on Development Finance Institutions to Act Against Tax Avoidance
  11. European Free AllianceTrump Victory and Brexit Show Urgent Need of Improving Democracy
  12. Martens CentreOur Transatlantic 9-11: Europe After Trump