Spain's Socialists face doomed vote to form government

2nd March 2016, Comments 0 comments

Spain's Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez endured a barrage of attacks in parliament Wednesday as lawmakers from the left and right dismissed his bid to form a new government ahead of an evening confidence vote he is set to lose.

Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whose conservative Popular Party (PP) came first in an inconclusive December general election but lost its absolute majority, mocked Sanchez's candidacy as "fictitious, unreal" because it has no chance of success.

"We are going to vote against your investiture because what you have presented here is a fraud," he said.

"And above all because you plan to eliminate what was achieved in Spain throughout these past four years which prevented this country from needing a bailout, created jobs, improved its competitiveness and caused it to grow economically."

Spain's economy grew 3.2 percent in 2015, one of the fastest rates in Europe, although the unemployment rate remains high at 20.9 percent.

The December 20 elections resulted in a hung parliament divided among four main parties -- none of which won enough seats to govern alone.

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

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

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 the Socialists have only the support of new market-friendly party Ciudadanos, which has 40 seats -- not enough to see them through.

New anti-austerity party Podemos, which with its 65 seats would be a valuable partner for Sanchez, immediately suspended its talks with the Socialists over their deal with Ciudadanos, which it considers too liberal.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said his lawmakers too would be voting against Sanchez because the Socialists did not appear set to lead a genuine leftist government.

"Negotiate with us, stop obeying the oligarchs," the pony-tailed political science professor said.

Iglesias recalled that during the 1939-75 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco "being a Socialist would lead you to jail not to the boardrooms of big companies."

Franco banned the Socialist party in 1939 and it was only legalised again in 1977, two years after his death.

- Fresh elections -

Sanchez appealed to leftist lawmakers on Tuesday to join in alliance to oust the PP, arguing in the assembly that Spain voted decisively for change in last year's election.

He said a Socialist-led government would enact progressive measures such as a minimum wage increase and a gender wage-gap law, and stressed that all sides would need to compromise as no single ideological group has enough seats for a majority.

"Why don't we get together and pass as many reforms as possible to solve the most urgent problems of Spaniards?" he asked the assembly.

The confidence vote is expected at around 9:00 pm (2000 GMT).

Sanchez, a 44-year-old career politician dubbed "El Guapo" ("Mr. Handsome") for his good looks, will have 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.

A two-month countdown will then start from Wednesday, 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.

That would leave Spain in political limbo for several more months just as the country emerges from a severe economic crisis, and also faces an independence threat in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

Recent polls suggest that if Spain goes back to the polls, the four main parties would obtain roughly the same result as they did in the December election, although some suggest Podemos could replace the Socialists in second place.

© 2016 AFP

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