Last-ditch coalition talks stall as Spain’s socialists face crucial vote

Talks between Spain's socialists and far-left Podemos to agree a coalition government were stalled on Thursday, casting doubt on whether Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will win a a crucial confidence vote later in the day.

Last-ditch coalition talks stall as Spain's socialists face crucial vote
Can Sanchez win support to become PM? Photo: AFP

Failure to get the necessary backing in the parliamentary vote would take Spain a step closer to holding its fourth elections in as many years.

Representatives from both parties have been trying to secure a deal for what would be Spain's first post-dictatorship coalition government following an inconclusive April general election.

But late on Wednesday talks stalled, with Sanchez's Socialist party calling Podemos's demands for government posts “unacceptable” while the far-left party countered it had been offered “inexistant or empty ministries”.

It is unclear whether both sides will meet again as the clock ticks down to a parliamentary session that kicks off at 1.30 pm local time (1130 GMT), during which lawmakers will cast their ballot in a confidence vote for Sanchez.

Without the support of Podemos, which with its partner Izquierda Unida (United Left) has 42 lawmakers, Sanchez won't win the vote.

Sanchez faces the second and final vote to become PM today (Thursday). Photo: AFP

Clash over ministries

The socialist premier came first in the April national poll but fell short of a majority with just 123 parliamentary seats out of 350, forcing him to seek backing elsewhere.

A spattering of regional parties, including a Catalan separatist grouping, have pledged their backing in Thursday's vote — whether backing him or abstaining — but only if he seals a deal with Podemos.

Right-wing parties, meanwhile, have already said they won't back him.   

If Sanchez loses the vote he will have another two months to find ways of getting support, either for a minority or coalition government.   

Absent a deal Spain would have to go back to the polls in November.   

Podemos has said it “doesn't want to enter government at any price”.   

The party has said it made several concessions already.

Its leader Pablo Iglesias, who does not get along with Sanchez, agreed earlier not to be part of the government so as to unblock the situation.   

But still Podemos has accused the socialists of refusing to give them positions that carry any weight.

Late Wednesday night the socialists revealed Podemos had asked for the post of deputy prime minister with responsibility for social rights and the environment, as well as five ministries including labour and fiscal justice.

“The proposal is unacceptable,” a socialist source said.

Spanish media reported Sanchez's party had offered Podemos the housing, health and equality ministries.

But a source at Podemos, who refused to be named, retorted the socialists had offered “inexistant or empty ministries,” with little responsibility.   

Juanma del Olmo of Podemos tweeted: “You can call it a housing ministry, it sounds great. But the truth is that without responsibility for lowering rental prices or stopping evictions without alternative housing (because the PSOE doesn't agree), it isn't a housing ministry, it's an empty ministry.”

READ MORE: Pedro Sanchez just lost first vote to remain in power: So what next?

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


At last! Spain passes budget in boost for minority government

Spain's Senate is poised to approve Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's budget for 2021 later Tuesday, boosting his minority Socialist-led government after years of political instability.

At last! Spain passes budget in boost for minority government
File image of a debate in Spain's parliament. Photo: AFP

Spain's Senate approved Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's budget for 2021 on Tuesday, boosting his minority Socialist-led government after years of political instability.

The spending plan, which channels billions of euros in European Union pandemic recovery funds into the economy, was approved by the lower house on December 3 before receiving the Senate's backing.

Its passage increases the chances that Sanchez will hold on to power until the next general election set for 2023.
   It became the first budget to be approved since 2018.   

The rise of new parties such as far-left Podemos and market-friendly Ciudadanos has fractured parliament, making it difficult to pass legislation.    

This has led to a cycle of political instability that has taken Spain, the euro zone's fourth largest economy, to four elections between 2015 and 2019.    

“This is a very, very important stage because it allows Pedro Sanchez to gain time and stability,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

'Sanchez never admits defeat'

Sanchez came to power in June 2018 but was forced to call fresh elections early last year after Catalan separatist parties voted down his draft budget.   

The budget vote came on the heels of the start of a high-profile trial of Catalan separatist leaders over Catalonia's failed 2017 bid to break away from Spain.

“Sanchez has shown throughout his career that he never admits defeat,” said Paloma Roman, politics professor at Madrid's Complutense University.    

After two inconclusive general elections in 2019, Sanchez in January 2020 formed a minority coalition government with Podemos.   

He initially tried to win support for his 2021 budget from Ciudadanos.    

But after that failed, he controversially turned to several smaller regional nationalist parties, including Bildu, the heirs of the former political wing of armed Basque separatist group ETA.

Sanchez took office in 2018 with the backing of these parties, but the pact with Bildu sparked an outcry from the right and even criticism from within his Socialist party.

Given the make-up of parliament, “there was no other possible majority” to help pass the budget, said Bartomeus.

'Not be easy'

In exchange for the support of these parties for his budget, Sanchez agreed a series of measures, including a moratorium on evictions for poor families which cabinet is set to approve on Tuesday.

While approval of the budget ensures Sanchez's government will last, he still faces “years of permanent negotiations within his government and in parliament” to approve laws, said Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza.

The Socialists and Podemos, their junior coalition partners, are divided over many issues such as migration, the future of the monarchy and the need to raise the minimum wage.

Sanchez's ties with Catalan ally ERC also risk becoming more tense as Catalonia's regional elections on February 14 nears.   

“It will not be easy for the government to resist these tensions, but neither of the two (coalition partners) has any real interest in separating” and bringing down the government, said Bartomeus.

Monge said Podemos is falling in the polls and the Socialists do not have enough support to govern alone so the “price they would pay” if they split would be “too high”.

By AFP's Mathieu Gorse