Socialist chief faces hostile lawmakers in bid to lead Spain

1st March 2016, Comments 0 comments

Spain's Socialist chief Pedro Sanchez ventured into hostile parliamentary territory Tuesday to plead with lawmakers to vote him through as prime minister and allow the country to finally get a government, knowing his chances are slim.

The parliamentary session is a key step towards trying to end nearly 11 weeks of political stalemate since December's elections produced a parliament split between four main parties -- none of them with enough seats to govern alone.

Designated by the king as prime ministerial candidate after conservative acting leader Mariano Rajoy pulled out, Sanchez has raced to put together a coalition government before the session, which will spill into Wednesday when the vote of confidence takes place.

"We have before us the possibility to create a government of change," he said as he pleaded for lawmakers' support.

He then outlined a series of progressive measures a Socialist-led government would enact, such as a minimum wage hike and a gender wage gap law.

"Why not start enacting all of this beginning next week?" he asked the chamber.

To become prime minister Sanchez needs to win an absolute majority in the first round of voting in the 350-strong lower house of parliament.

But barring any unexpected changes of heart, he only has the support of centrist upstart party Ciudadanos and the tiny regional Canaries' Coalition, giving him just 131 votes -- not enough to see him through.

Sanchez, a 44-year-old career politician dubbed "El Guapo" ("Mr. Handsome") for his good looks, has another chance on Friday in a vote in which he would only need more votes in favour than against.

If he fails in both votes, Spain will be plunged into uncharted territory.

It would be the first time since the country returned to democracy following the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975 that the candidate designated by the king did not get enough backing from parliament to form a government.

A two-month countdown will then start from the beginning of the week, during which the wildly diverging parties will try once again to come to an agreement to govern Spain.

Failing that, new elections will be called, most likely on June 26.

- End to two-party system -

Unions and business figures have urged political leaders to reach a deal for a stable government quickly as Spain emerges from a severe economic crisis, and also faces an independence threat in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

But that is easier said than done.

The December 20 elections saw the ruling, conservative Popular Party (PP) lose its absolute majority, and two upstarts -- Ciudadanos and anti-austerity Podemos -- put an end to Spain's long-running two-party system.

Hailed as a major step forward for democracy, the initial euphoria quickly evaporated when it became apparent that parties with differing agendas -- and unused to compromise -- were going to struggle to work together for a coalition government.

Rajoy gave up attempts to form a government after he failed to get support from other groupings fed up with years of crisis-sparked austerity and corruption scandals plaguing his grouping.

So King Felipe VI asked runner-up Sanchez, whose Socialists scored their worst result in history with just 90 seats out of 350, to form a government.

- Podemos voters divided -

After weeks of negotiations and ping-pong televised statements, he sealed a deal last week with Ciudadanos, which came fourth in the elections with 40 seats.

But Podemos, which with its 65 seats would be a valuable partner for Sanchez, immediately suspended talks with the Socialists over the agreement, which it considered too liberal.

The PP meanwhile has said it will vote against any government it does not lead this week.

Sanchez could still go through if Podemos and other smaller groupings abstain from casting their ballot -- a move they have so far rejected.

Podemos voters "are divided on this issue", sociologist Jose Pablo Ferrandiz of polling firm Metroscopia told AFP.

But after Sanchez's address to parliament, Podemos's number two Inigo Errejon said the party's position had not changed.

"Only Ciudadanos will support Sanchez," he said.


© 2016 AFP

0 Comments To This Article