Sunday

9th May 2021

Spanish King meets party leaders to break deadlock

  • Pedro Sanchez (r), and the leader of the leftist party Unidas Podemos, Pablo Iglesias, reached an initial understanding to form a coalition government, although they will need the support of smaller and regional parties (Photo: Podemos)

The Spanish King Felipe VI began on Tuesday (10 December) 48-hours of meetings with the political leaders to establish whether the caretaker prime minister Pedro Sánchez from the Socialist Party (PSOE) stands a chance to become the new head of government.

The discussions, with 18 different politicians, will conclude with an encounter between the Spanish monarch and Sanchez on Wednesday.

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After consulting with the representatives appointed by the political groups and the president of the congress, the king will formally propose a candidate and an investiture session take place, according to the constitution.

However, the deeply-fragmented Spanish political landscape has triggered this procedure for the third time this year.

Sánchez in November won the highest number of seats in the congress (120 in the 350-seat parliament ), in what was the fourth Spanish election in just four years.

But once again the Socialists fell short of an absolute majority.

Sánchez and the leader of the leftist Unidas Podemos (United, We Can) party, Pablo Iglesias, quickly reached an agreement to form a coalition government - for the first time in Spain's recent history - although together they lost a total of 10 MPs in November's election.

However, Sánchez and Podemos had already tried and failed to form a new government earlier this year, following the inconclusive results of earlier national elections in April.

This time both parties managed to agree on the 10-point 'pre-agreement' toward a coalition government, focusing efforts on different areas such as climate change, unemployment, equality, tax justice and the situation in Catalonia.

However, the success of this coalition government relies on the support of smaller and regional parties, as together they only have 155 seats in the congress - not an absolute majority (176 seats).

Catalonian jigsaw

The odds for Sanchez might depend on the Catalan Republican Left (ERC), a separatist party whose leader, Oriol Junqueras, was recently sentenced to 13 years in prison over his role in the 2017 failed bid for independence.

But the position of the ECR is still unclear. If there is an agreement, it not likely to take place until January since "there are things that have to happen and that might influence the decision," according to ERC spokeswoman Marta Vilalta.

The ECR awaits the decision of the European Court of Justice about the possible legal immunity of Junqueras as an MEP scheduled for next Thursday (19 December). However, the Socialists are pushing to reach a deal before the end of the year.

The situation of the nine Catalan leaders who were sentenced to up to 13 years prison by the Spanish Supreme court is one of the main topics on the table.

ERC and PSOE are "moving forward" in the "definition" of the future negotiating table to "address the political conflict over the future of Catalonia", although always "from the respect and mutual institutional recognition," according to a carefully-worded joint statement published on Tuesday, after the third official meeting between the two parties.

However, the Catalan separatist party will not hesitate to vote against Sanchez at the investiture session, rather than offer an abstention, if they do not reach a deal, Vilalta warned.

Sanchez's 'Option C'

Before becoming the EU's new foreign affairs chief, Spanish politician Josep Borrell said that there is another way for Sánchez to get endorsed - without having to rely on Catalan separatist parties.

This option would involve an abstention by the conservative Popular Party (PP).

However, the leader of PP, Pablo Casado, has repeatedly said that his party will not support Sánchez, nor will the PP support any change to the Spanish constitution that Catalonia may seek.

After the socialist leader previously submitted to a failed investiture vote in July of this year, Sánchez said that he will not do so again if he does not have the support to be elected.

In May 2018, Sánchez himself led a successful no-confidence motion against then conservative PM Mariano Rajoy and became the new prime minister of Spain.

However, he was unable to secure the approval of his budget plan, leading the country to early elections in April 2019 and a political deadlock since then.

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