Spain close to new polls despite eleventh-hour stab at coalition

26th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

Spain inched closer to fresh elections Tuesday as a deadline to form a government loomed, despite a surprise, eleventh-hour coalition proposal that provided voters with a brief glimmer of hope.

The 30-point proposal was submitted by regional grouping Compromis in a bid to avoid leaving the eurozone's fourth-largest economy without a fully functioning government for any longer.

But as the day wore on party leaders either rejected it or accused others of torpedoing the document, just as King Felipe VI prepared to issue a statement expected to make clear whether there was any hope for a deal, or whether new polls would be held.

The tumult comes over 18 weeks after December elections resulted in a hung parliament and forced parties into talks on forming a coalition, which would be a first for Spain since it returned to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

"We think there is still time and we have to try this," Socialist party (PSOE) spokesman Antonio Hernando told reporters earlier Tuesday in response to the proposal.

He said the PSOE had accepted most of Compromis's proposals, which include measures to fight corruption and poverty, but had requested that any future government be broadly Socialist.

Their centrist allies Ciudadanos meanwhile rejected the proposed agreement outright, while the far-left party Podemos, a key player in the talks, accused the Socialists of thwarting the latest bid to set up a coalition.

- King 'surprised' -

All bets now are that the parties will fail to reach agreement and that new polls will be called for June 26 under an official electoral timeframe.

This means Spaniards will return to the polls just six months after the December vote, which upended the country's traditional two-party system as voters weary of austerity, corruption and unemployment flocked to new groupings.

In a press conference, Compromis lawmaker Joan Baldovi said they had worked through the night on the proposal before presenting it to the Socialists and other left-wing groupings.

"The king received it with surprise and was grateful to us for trying to reach a deal until the last moment," he said after talks with the monarch.

The Socialists have been knee-deep in negotiations to try to form a government after acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose conservative Popular Party came first in December's elections but lost its majority, declined to do so for lack of support.

Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez managed to strike a deal on a government with upstart Ciudadanos -- in fourth place in the elections -- but the two parties had too few seats in parliament to pass a vote of confidence.

Sanchez then tried to enlist the support of Podemos, whose 65 parliamentary seats would have got it through, but failed -- prompting the current political paralysis.

- 'Three pages' to govern Spain -

Hernando told reporters his party agreed on 27 of the proposal's 30 points, rejecting for instance a suggestion to restructure Spain's debt.

He added that any future government must be broadly Socialist and led by Sanchez.

"We can still avoid repeating elections, that's what a majority of citizens wants," Hernando said.

But in its proposal, Compromis said it wanted an exclusively left-wing government composed of the Socialists, Podemos, and four other smaller groupings -- pointedly excluding Ciudadanos, considered too far to the right.

As such, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera rejected it outright.

"I saw three pages (of measures) to govern Spain for four years between six different parties," he said.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias, meanwhile, said it welcomed the proposal but accused the Socialists of rejecting a coalition by insisting that any future government be broadly PSOE-led.

"Pedro Sanchez still has time to put things right," he told reporters after meeting the king.

© 2016 AFP

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