Christmas Day elections loom as opposition blocks govt deal

Spain's main opposition Socialist party on Monday refused to back Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's efforts to form a minority government, pushing the country closer to its third general election in a year.

Christmas Day elections loom as opposition blocks govt deal
Rajoy has not got the support he needs to form a government. Photo: AFP

“Our voters voted to get rid of Rajoy,” Socialist party head Pedro Sanchez told reporters after a 30-minute meeting with the conservative leader, which he said he “could have perfectly done without.”

Spain has been without a government for eight months following two inconclusive elections. Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) has won both ballots but failed to reach an absolute majority.

Rajoy on Sunday clinched a deal with the upstart Ciudadanos, a liberal party, to support him in this week's confidence vote but still needs the backing of the Socialist party to prevent a third round of elections.

To win Ciudadanos support, Rajoy agreed a series of anti-corruption measures and a reform of electoral law, which will favour small parties like the liberals, as well as a string of proposals such as a wage hike for low-income families and a boost in education and health budgets.

But Sanchez told reporters that the PP was intent on “pursuing the same policies which have brought on unemployment and inequality” since it came to power in 2011.

With Ciudadanos' support and the vote of a deputy from the Canary Islands, Rajoy has secured 170 votes in the 350 seat lower house, six short of the majority needed in Wednesday's vote to form a government.

In a second confidence vote to take place on Friday, Rajoy only needs a simple majority but for that he would need the Socialists to abstain.    

If there is no breakthrough two months after Wednesday's parliamentary ballot, vote-weary Spaniards will be asked to return to the polls on December 25th.

Sanchez said that in choosing the date of the confidence vote to ensure the Christmas Day election, Rajoy was “attempting to blackmail the political parties and the whole of Spain.”

“The Socialist party does not give in to blackmail,” he said.    

Rajoy for his part said he would keep on trying to convince the Socialist party to change its mind.

“The lack of government is starting to undermine the country's reputation,” he said. “And there is serious risk that we will be seen as jokers.”

Twitter even introduced an emoji especially for the investiture debate and vote. 

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What the PP’s landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain’s ruling Socialists

A resounding win by Spain's conservative Popular Party in a weekend regional election in Andalusia appears to have boosted its chances in national elections next year and weakened Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

What the PP's landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain's ruling Socialists

The Popular Party (PP) secured 58 seats in Sunday’s election in Spain’s most populous region — three more than the 55 needed for an absolute majority. That constitutes its best-ever result in the longstanding Socialist stronghold.

The Socialists won 30 seats, their worst-ever result in Andalusia. It governed there without interruption between 1982 and 2018, when it was ousted from power by a coalition between the PP and centre-right Ciudadanos.

This was the Socialists’ third consecutive regional election loss to the PP after votes in Madrid in May 2021 and Castilla y Leon in February.

Sanchez’s government has been struggling to deal with the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation worldwide, especially through increasing energy prices.

Socialist party officials argued the results of a regional election “can’t be extrapolated” nationally.

But in an editorial, centre-left daily El Pais said no one can deny the gulf in the election scores obtained between the two parties in two of Spain’s most populated regions — Andalusia and Madrid.

This was “more than just a stumble”, it argued.

“This may be a symptom of a change in the political cycle” at the national level, it added. The conservative daily ABC took a similar line.

‘Worn down’

Pablo Simon, political science professor at the Carlos III University, said this “new cycle” in which “the right is stronger” began when the PP won a landslide in a regional election in Madrid in May 2021.

It could culminate with the PP coming out on top in the next national election expected at the end of 2023, he added.

But Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza, took a more cautious line.

“The government is worn down after four difficult years due to the pandemic” and the war in Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation, she said.

She refused to “draw a parallel” between Andalusia and Spain, arguing “there is still a lot of time” before the next national election.

Sanchez come to power in June 2018 after former PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy was voted out of office in a no-confidence motion triggered by a long-running corruption scandal.

The PP then suffered its worst-ever results in the next general election in 2019, which the Socialists won.

Sunday’s election was the first since veteran politician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, a moderate, took over as leader of the PP from Pablo Casado following a period of internal party turbulence.

Partido Popular (PP) candidate for the Andalusian regional election Juanma Moreno greets supporters during a meeting following the Andalusian regional elections, in Seville on June 19, 2022. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

‘Packing his bags’

“People are fed up with Sanchez,” the PP’s popular regional leader of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, said Monday.

“If national elections had been held yesterday, the result would have been the same and today he would be packing his bags,” she added.

Up until now, the far-right Vox party had supported the PP in Andalusia but from outside government.

This time around however, it had said its support would be conditional on getting a share of the government of the southern region.

But the PP’s commanding victory in Andalusia means that is now moot: it no longer has to rely on far-right party Vox to govern.

At the national level, it could be a different story however, said Pablo Simon.

A PP government nationally that did not rely on Vox would be “impossible” due to the fragmentation of parliament, which has several regional and separatist parties.