Spanish parties restart coalition talks in surprise move

26th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

Spain was offered a glimmer of hope Tuesday after parties restarted coalition talks in a surprise, eleventh-hour move just as the deadline to form a government drew to a close and fresh elections threatened.

The negotiations kicked off again after Compromis -- a small, regional grouping involved in coalition talks -- submitted a last-ditch proposal for a government that includes measures to fight corruption and poverty.

It hopes this will be accepted by the country's left-wing forces including the main opposition Socialists (PSOE) to avoid leaving the eurozone's fourth largest economy without a fully functioning government for any longer.

"We think there is still time and we have to try this," PSOE spokesman Antonio Hernando told reporters in response to the proposal, more than 18 weeks after inconclusive December elections resulted in a hung parliament and forced parties into coalition talks that have so far failed.

While the Socialists have accepted most of the content of the 30-point document, their centrist allies Ciudadanos have rejected it outright.

Podemos, the far-left party that emerged from the Indignados protest movement against austerity and has become a key player in coalition talks, has yet to officially comment.

- King 'surprised' -

The turn of events came as King Felipe VI prepared to wrap up an obligatory round of consultations with various party leaders before issuing a statement later Tuesday or Wednesday expected to make clear whether there was any hope for a coalition deal.

Until the restart of talks on Tuesday, all bets had been that an agreement was impossible and new polls would be called for June 26 under an official electoral timeframe.

This would mean Spaniards would cast their ballot again just six months after December's elections, which put an end to the country's traditional two-party system as voters fed up of austerity, corruption and unemployment flocked to new groupings.

While historic, the election result left Spain in uncharted waters as the country has never had a coalition government since it returned to democracy following the death of long-time dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

In a press conference, Compromis lawmaker Joan Baldovi said they had elaborated the proposal on Monday afternoon and through much of the night 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 this did not give both parties enough seats to obtain a majority in parliament for the necessary vote of confidence.

So Sanchez tried to reach an agreement with Podemos, whose 65 parliamentary seats would have got it through, but failed -- prompting the current political paralysis.

The key sticking point is that both Ciudadanos and Podemos refuse to be in a government with the other one in it.

- 'Three pages' to govern Spain -

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

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

"It was difficult for the PSOE and Ciudadanos to come to an agreement. During one month, with dozens of meetings -- (we came up with) 67 pages of 200 reforms.

"Some said this wasn't valid, so imagine what they will think of a three-page document."

© 2016 AFP

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