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ANALYSIS

ELECTION

Spain’s Socialists will lose support whoever they back: analysts

Spain's Socialists hold the key to the next government after an inconclusive election but whether they reach a deal with the conservatives or team up with the anti-austerity party Podemos, they risk losing support, analysts say.

Spain's Socialists will lose support whoever they back: analysts
Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez faces a tough choice. Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP
The party, led since 2014 by telegenic former university professor Pedro Sanchez, came in second in last weekend's election, winning 22 percent of the vote and 90 seats in the 350-seat parliament.
 
The Socialists lost ground to far-left Podemos, which was founded just two years ago and came in a close third with 20.7 percent support garnering 69 seats.
   
Despite a result that ranks as their worst ever, the Socialists are in a position to decide if acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) can stay in power.
   
The PP received the most votes of any party but it fell well short of an absolute majority in parliament, taking 123 seats, and will need the support of the Socialists to govern in a minority.
   
But Sanchez has said the Socialists will not support any effort by Rajoy to stay on in his post via a coalition or a minority government.
   
“We will vote against the continuity of the Popular Party at the helm of the government, with Mariano Rajoy as prime minister,” he said Wednesday after holding talks with Rajoy.
   
Analysts said allowing the PP to stay in power could alienate left-wing voters who oppose austerity measures introduced by Rajoy in response to Spain's financial crisis.
   
“It would be political suicide,” said Anton Losada, political science professor at the University of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
   
He recalled that the Socialists focused their campaign on the need to “send Rajoy home”.
   
Forming a pact with the PP could see the Socialists suffer the same fate as its Greek counterpart Pasok, which saw its support plunge after it joined a coalition led by the conservative New Democracy in 2012.
   
“If they pact with the PP it would be very complicated” for Sanchez because “the base of parties is always more radical” then its leadership, said Narciso Michavila, who heads GAD3 polling firm.
 
With left-wing parties holding the balance of power in the new parliament, Sanchez said the Socialists would try to form a government themselves by joining forces with Podemos and other smaller regional nationalist parties.
   
That outcome would mirror recent events in neighbouring Portugal where the ruling conservatives won an October election but fell to a Socialist government backed by leftist parties just days later.
   
But analysts warned that teaming up with Podemos also has its risks. Podemos is the only national party to back an independence referendum in the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, where secessionist parties have
an absolute majority in the regional parliament.
   
It has said support for such a referendum is “indispensible” for any deal with another party.
   
If Sanchez accepts this condition, he faces the wrath of Socialist party barons who are fiercely opposed to Catalonia's separatist drive, such as Susana Diaz, the head of the regional government of the southern region of
Andalusia, a Socialist bastion.
   
“We can't negotiate with those that propose breaking up Spain,” she said during an interview broadcast Friday on radio Cadena Ser.
   
Podemos's demand on the Catalonia referendum was “specially designed to sink Pedro Sanchez” because if he agrees it would lead to the “collapse of the Socialists in Andalusia”, Michavila said.
   
King Felipe VI is responsible for nominating a prime minister after the new Parliament convenes on January 13.
   
If no party leader manages to be approved by lawmakers as prime minister within two months of a first vote of confidence, fresh elections will have to be called.
   
Podemos, which has shown no rush to discuss a coalition with Sanchez, could surpass the Socialists if another election is held and become the main opposition party, said political analyst Josep Ramoneda.
   
“If Podemos sees victory is at hand, it will resist as long as possible to go to new elections,” he said.

INCOME

Spain’s basic income scheme hits backlog dead-end

Three months after Spain rushed to launch a minimum basic income scheme to fight a spike in poverty due to the coronavirus pandemic, the programme is at a dead-end because of an avalanche of applications.

Spain's basic income scheme hits backlog dead-end
Red Cross volunteers bring food packages to elderly and low income people. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP
The measure was a pledge made by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftwing coalition government, which took office in January, bringing together his Socialist party with far-left Podemos as the junior partner.
   
The scheme — approved in late May — aims to guarantee an income of 462 euros ($546) per month for an adult living alone, while for families, there would be an additional 139 euros per person, whether adult or child, up to a monthly maximum of 1,015 euros per home. It is expected to cost state coffers three billion euros ($3.5 billion) a year.
   
The government decided to bring forward the launch of the programme because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit Spain hard and devastated its economy, causing queues at food banks to swell.
   
Of the 750,000 applications which were filed since June 15 when the government started accepting requests, 143,000 — or 19 percent — have been analysed and 80,000 were approved, according to a social security statement issued on August 20.
 
 
'Months of waiting'
 
But Spain main civil servant's union, CSIF, paints a darker picture. “Nearly 99 percent of requests have not been processed,” a union spokesman, Jose Manuel Molina, told AFP.
   
The social security ministry has only really analysed 6,000 applications while 74,000 households that already receive financial aid were awarded the basic income automatically, he added.
   
For hundreds of thousands of other households, the wait is stressful. Marta Sanchez, a 42-year-old mother of two from the southern city of Seville, said she applied for the scheme on June 26 but has heard nothing since.
   
“That is two months of waiting already, when in theory this was a measure that was taken so no one ends up in the streets,” she added.
   
Sanchez lost her call centre job during Spain's virus lockdown while her husband lost his job as a driver. The couple has had to turn to the Red Cross for the first time for food.
   
“Thank God my mother and sister pay our water and electricity bills,” she said, adding their landlord, a relative, has turned a blind eye to the unpaid rent.
 
 
'Rushed everything'
 
A spokeswoman for the ministry acknowledged that the rhythm “was perhaps a bit slower than expected” but she said the government was working to “automate many procedures” so processing times should become faster from now on.
   
“The launch of a benefit is always difficult … and this situation is not an exception,” she added.
   
But Molina said this was a new situation, that was made worse by years of budget cuts to the public service which has lost 25 percent of its staff over the past decade.
   
“The problem is that they rushed everything, did it without training and a huge lack of staff,” he added.
   
The social security branch charged with the basic income scheme has only 1,500 civil servants, who also process most pension applications, Molina said.
   
These officials are facing an “avalanche” of requests, which already match the number of pension requests received in an entire year, he added.
   
About 500 temporary workers have been recruited as reinforcements but their assistance is limited because they do not have the status of civil servant, so they cannot officially approve requests for financial aid.
   
Demand is expected to increase. The government has said the measure was expected to benefit some 850,000 homes, affecting a total of 2.3 million people — 30 percent of whom were minors.
   
When the scheme was launched the government said all it would take is a simple online form, but this is a problem for many low-income families without computers and internet access, especially since the waiting time for an in-person meeting to apply is about two months, according to the CSIF union
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