In first, Podemos joins three-way coalition talks as clock ticks in Spain
Spain's Socialists, far-left party Podemos and centrist upstart Ciudadanos began their first three-way coalition talks Thursday, trying to put aside their differences as a deadline to form a government approaches fast.
Nearly 16 weeks after inconclusive elections left Spain without a proper government, and as acrimony between party leaders intensifies, negotiators from all three groupings sat down to try and unblock the political paralysis gripping the country.
And the clock is ticking -- if no power-sharing agreement is found by May 2 new elections will be called, most likely for June 26.
This would extend the paralysis that has gripped Spain since December's general elections, at a time when the country is emerging limping out of a damaging financial crisis.
"We are going with the clear will to do our utmost to obtain a government... but also knowing that it's very difficult, that we are political parties that are far apart from each other," Meritxell Batet, part of the Socialists' negotiating team, told Spanish radio.
- Trading barbs -
Talks will be all the more difficult following acrimonious exchanges in parliament between Podemos chief Pablo Iglesias and Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera on Wednesday.
The two leaders traded accusations of cronyism, intolerance and shady financing, just 24 hours before the three-way meeting, prompting concern over how two parties already far apart ideologically could sit down for civil talks.
Antonio Hernando, who heads up the negotiating team of the Socialists -- the party tasked with forming a government -- tried to play down these differences, in an interview with El Pais newspaper.
"Attitudes are different in public and in private, whether there are cameras and microphones or not. There won't be any in today's meeting," he said.
The December polls put an end to the traditional two-party system as voters fed up with austerity, unemployment and corruption scandals flocked to new parties, leaving a hung parliament divided among four main groupings, none of them with enough seats to govern alone.
The Socialists were tasked with forming a government after acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy -- whose conservative Popular Party came first in elections with 123 parliamentary seats out of 350 -- gave up attempts to do so due to lack of support from other groupings.
They reached a pact with Ciudadanos, which came in fourth place.
But that only gives them a total of 130 seats -- far from enough to push a government through the necessary parliamentary vote of confidence, which requires a simple majority.
They need the support of Podemos, which came third in the election with 65 seats, giving it considerable sway in coalition negotiations.
- Growing dissatisfaction -
Podemos, which has recently lost ground in opinion polls, had refused to sit down for negotiations with the Socialists if Ciudadanos was involved, but last week agreed to do so.
But one major problem remains -- neither Podemos nor Ciudadanos want to be part of a government with the other one in it.
Podemos, the anti-austerity party born just over two years ago out of the Indignados protest movement, would like to rule with the Socialists and persuade Ciudadanos to back out and agree to abstain or vote for any future parliamentary vote of confidence on a government proposal.
And the same goes for Ciudadanos -- but the other way round.
Faced with this seemingly intractable situation, analysts say one party could still back down to avoid repeating elections, particularly as Spaniards are starting to grow very weary of the current deadlock.
The latest opinion poll by the CIS research centre revealed that close to 80 percent of the population said the political situation was either "bad" or "very bad."
© 2016 AFP