Socialists under pressure to allow PP to form government

Spain's Socialist leader faced mounting pressure Monday to let acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy form a new government and end a months-long political impasse, after his party suffered losses in two regional elections.

Socialists under pressure to allow PP to form government
Sanchez has so far refused to back Rajoy. Photo: AFP

The Socialist party (PSOE) lost ground in Sunday's elections in the northern regions of Galicia and the Basque Country to new anti-austerity party Podemos, which is seeking to replace it as Spain's main party on the left.   

The PSOE finished fourth in the Basque region, behind Podemos, and was tied in Galicia with the En Marea coalition which includes Podemos with 14 seats each.

Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) renewed its absolute majority in Galicia and lost just one seat in the Basque Country.   

Pablo Casado, a senior PP member, said Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez “needs to reflect” and allow Rajoy to form a new government and end a months-long political impasse.

But Sanchez told a news conference that his opposition to a PP-led minority government had not changed.

“The 'no' to Mr Rajoy… has never been more justified,” he said in his first public comments since the regional polls.

Spain is being run by a government without full powers after inconclusive elections in December and June that saw the PP win without an absolute majority and other parties fail to forge a rival coalition.

Rajoy's PP is six seats short of the absolute majority of 176 seats it needs in a parliamentary confidence vote, even with the support of centrist party Ciudadanos, and one extra seat from a minor Canary Islands party.   

The Socialists scored their worst ever showing in both elections, finishing second.

An abstention by the party would be enough to enable a PP-led minority government under Rajoy, in power since 2011.   

Parliament must usher in a new government by October 31 otherwise new elections will take place, around Christmas.

'Deep debate'

Rajoy did not directly address Sanchez on Monday, saying only that all political forces needed to “show responsibility” to end the lengthy political impasse which he dubbed a “pitiful show”.

The PP “will continue to try to form a government because it is its obligation,” he added.

Sanchez voted against a Rajoy-led government in a parliamentary vote of confidence earlier this month.

He opposes austerity measures imposed by the PP and argues that allegations of illegal financing and graft that have dogged the conservative party under Rajoy's watch have undermined his credibility.

Sanchez reiterated his wish to negotiate a “government of change” with arch-rival Podemos and centrists Ciudadanos.

But this strategy is complicated by the fact that Ciudadanos has steadfastly refused to be part of an alliance with Podemos, in large part due to differences over economic policy.

Sanchez is unpopular among many regional party leaders, or “barons”, who think the party should help put an end to Spain's nine-month deadlock by admitting defeat, allowing a right-wing coalition government led by acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to come to power.

Sanchez acknowledged there was a “deep debate” within the party over which path to take and announced he would seek backing for his stance a party leaders meeting on Saturday.

“I think it is very important that the Socialist party speak with a single voice,” he said.

Sanchez also announced he would call for a leadership race on October 23rd to renew his position at the helm of the party.

“Whoever thinks they can do better should throw in their hat,” he said.

By Michaela Cancela-Kieffer / AFP

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Gibraltar accuses Spain of ‘gross sovereignty breach’ over customs incident

Gibraltar on Friday accused Spain of a "gross violation of British sovereignty" after an incident on one of its beaches involving Spanish customs agents who were attacked by smugglers, during which shots were fired.

Gibraltar accuses Spain of 'gross sovereignty breach' over customs incident

“The evidence surrounding this incident discloses a gross violation of British sovereignty and, potentially, the most serious and dangerous incident for many years,” said Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo in a statement.

The incident happened early on Thursday when a small Spanish customs vessel lost power while pursuing suspected tobacco smugglers off Gibraltar, a source from Spain’s tax agency which is in charge of customs told AFP.

After choppy seas pushed their vessel to the shore, the two officers on board were surrounded by a group of people and pelted with rocks, some of them weighing over three kilos (6.5 pounds), the source added.

The officers fired “shots into the water to try to drive away” the people throwing rocks, a tax office source told AFP, speaking on condition he was not identified.

One customs officer suffered a broken nose, the other fractured bones in his face, he added.

Videos circulating on social media appear to show several shots being fired during the incident, although it was not clear who fired them.

‘Reckless and dangerous’

“Should it be confirmed that Spanish officials discharged their weapons in Gibraltar, such action would be a very serious breach of the law,” the Gibraltar government statement said.

It called the incident “reckless and dangerous, especially in an area of dense civilian population, given the proximity of a residential estate in the area”.

The governments of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom consider that the events “will require careful consideration as to the nature and level of diplomatic response,” it added.

Gibraltar police and army officers used metal detectors on Friday to search for bullet casings on the beach, images broadcast on Gibraltar TV showed.

Picardo said Spanish law agencies know they can ask Gibraltar law enforcement to continue a chase into Gibraltar but “it would appear that they did not do so in this case.”

Spain’s foreign ministry “categorically rejected” the terms of the Gibraltar government statement as well as the “claims of alleged British sovereignty over the territory and waters of Gibraltar” which it contained.

Spain’s Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero said the customs agency would “investigate what happened and will demand the necessary explanations”.

Post-Brexit talks

The incident comes as Madrid and London are locked in talks over Gibraltar’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union.

The European Commission and Spain sent Britain, in late 2022 a proposal that would keep freedom of movement along the border of the tiny British enclave at Spain’s southern tip.

About 15,000 people, the majority of them Spaniards, commute daily from Spain to jobs in Gibraltar, which has a population of about 34,000.

Gibraltar has long been a source of British-Spanish tensions. Although Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713, Madrid has long wanted it back, a thorny dispute that has for decades involved pressure on the

Tensions peaked in 1969 when the regime of dictator Francisco Franco closed the border, which did not fully reopen until 1985.