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POLITICS

Spanish king makes final bid to broker deal on new govt

Spain's King Felipe VI met with political party leaders on Monday in a last desperate bid to get them to form a coalition government - and avoid calling the country's second general election within six months.

Spanish king makes final bid to broker deal on new govt
King Felipe has a difficult job ahead. Photo: AFP

The monarch will wrap up the talks – his third round since an inconclusive December 20th election – on Tuesday by meeting with acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who said over the weekend he was ready for new polls.   

“I am in shape and eager and willing once again to do battle,” Rajoy told a party meeting on Sunday in the southern city of Cordoba.    

Parties have tried in vain to agree on a coalition government since the elections resulted in a hung parliament divided among four main groupings, none of them with enough seats to govern alone, as voters fed up with austerity, unemployment and corruption flocked to upstarts.

A new government must be in place by May 2nd, or the king must dissolve parliament and call a new election for June 26th.

That would leave Spain, the eurozone's fourth largest economy, without a fully functioning government for at least two more months.

Barring a last-minute surprise, the king is expected to call the polls after his talks with Rajoy whose conservative Popular Party (PP) came in first place in the election but lost its majority in parliament.

The election left Spain in uncharted waters as the country has never had a coalition government since it returned to democracy following the death of long-time dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Rajoy turned down a bid to form a government due to a lack of support from other parties who shunned the PP because of its links to corruption scandals and its harsh austerity measures.

The king then turned to the Socialists, who came in second.    

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez struck a deal with centrist upstart Ciudadanos – but this did not give both parties enough seats to get a majority in parliament for the necessary vote of confidence.

So Sanchez tried to reach an agreement with new far-left party Podemos, whose 65 parliamentary seats would have got it through, but failed.   

Ciudadanos, which came in fourth place, rejects many of the policies proposed by Podemos as being too radically left while Podemos, which came in third, sees Ciudadanos as too right-wing.

“Now that there is no more bipartisanship or absolute majorities, no one seems to master the new rules of the game, which are none other than dialogue, negotiating and reaching agreements,” the head of the Socialists' Catalan faction, Miquel Iceta, told reporters on Friday.

Stalemate set to continue

Other European nations have also endured months without a government recently after inconclusive elections.   

Belgium needed 541 days to form a government following a 2010 election, a European record.

Polls suggest fresh elections will not break the political stalemate, with the results likely to be similar to those of December with no party obtaining a majority.

The surveys show Podemos may lose votes as some of the five million people who backed the anti-austerity party last time accuse it of blocking the formation of a left-wing government that would have ousted the conservatives, in power since 2011.

To prevent this from happening Podemos could forge an alliance with smaller Izquierda Unida, a communist-green party headed by telegenic 30-year-old Alberto Garzon that got 800,000 votes in December.   

The aim would be to surpass the Socialists in new elections, giving Podemos even more influence than it gained in December.   

Belen Barreiro, a sociologist who heads the MyWord polling firm, said Spain was “divided into two blocks” made up of the PP and Ciudadanos on the centre-right and the Socialists, Podemos, Izquierda Unida and a collection of smaller parties on the centre-left.

“The question is how everything will move within the two blocks,” she told AFP.

Iceta said he believes it would be “even harder to reach an agreement” on a new government if there are fresh polls.

By Anna Cuenca and Daniel Silva / AFP

 

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POLITICS

Spain’s Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was in Rabat on Thursday to reset a "strategic partnership" despite criticism from within his left-wing government that it has caved into Moroccan pressure.

Spain's Sánchez in Morocco to mend fences after crisis

Sánchez and a dozen ministers are set to meet Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch for the first “high-level meeting” of its kind since 2015.

“Today we are consolidating a new stage in relations between Morocco and Spain,” Sánchez told journalists in Rabat, saying there was “enormous unexplored potential” between them.

His visit comes less than a year after he drew a line under a year-long diplomatic crisis by reversing decades of neutrality in the Western Sahara conflict to back Morocco’s position.

But Sánchez has faced criticism from both the left and right for the concession to Morocco, including from his administration’s number three, Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz of the hard-left Podemos party.

She has declined to join this week’s trip, in line with her party’s rejection of Sánchez’s “unilateral” U-turn on Western Sahara.

Spain’s right-wing opposition has also slammed Sánchez over the policy, with González Pons, a member of the European Parliament from the Popular Party, saying there was “no greater humiliation than bowing to the will of Morocco”.

Sánchez has defended his move as essential for Spanish interests.

On Thursday he called for new Spanish investments in Morocco, where his country is already the third-biggest foreign investor.

Investment deals

Around 20 deals were signed on Thursday to boost Spanish investments in everything from renewable energy to education, as well as doubling Spanish state support for firms setting up projects there.

Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch said the two countries “want to establish a new economic partnership in the service of development”.

The crisis between Rabat and Madrid had begun in 2021 when Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front which seeks independence for Western Sahara, was treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital.

Weeks later, more than 10,000 migrants surged into Spain’s tiny Ceuta enclave as Moroccan border forces looked the other way, an incident seen as a Moroccan move to punish Madrid.

In March last year, Madrid announced a “new stage” in relations and said it backed the North African kingdom’s plan for the Western Sahara of limited autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

The following month, Sánchez paid a high-profile visit to Morocco and was hosted by King Mohammed VI.

The Spanish premier came under renewed fire this week for holding a high-level visit to Morocco without being hosted by the monarch.

Conservative newspaper El Mundo said the king “had shown his position of strength by standing Sánchez up”.

However, King Mohammed did this week invite the Spanish premier for a higher-profile state visit in the near future to “reinforce the positive dynamic” in their ties, according to a palace statement.

‘Honeymoon’

Cooperation over clandestine migration and terrorism is also high on the agenda during Sánchez’s visit.

After resuming cooperation with the kingdom, Spain said arrivals of irregular migrants on its territory from Morocco were down by a quarter last year compared with 2021.

Both countries faced criticism from human rights groups after at least 23 migrants died during a mass attempt to enter the Melilla enclave in June 2022.

Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska is set to ask his Moroccan counterpart Abdelouafi Laftit to return deportations of irregular migrants to pre-Covid levels, according to a ministry official.

The visit comes as the European Parliament lifts the immunity of two lawmakers targeted in a Belgian probe into suspected bribery linked to Morocco as well as Qatar.

Morocco has staunchly denied any wrongdoing, but the investigation by Belgian police has sparked tensions between key European states and the North African kingdom.

Moroccan politicians and media have accused France, a staunch ally of the kingdom, of “orchestrating” a European Parliament resolution critical of Morocco’s treatment of the press.

“There’s a honeymoon between Rabat and Madrid, and a cold crisis” between Rabat and Paris, French-Moroccan journalist Mustapha Tossa wrote on news website Atlasinfo.

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