PSOE leader Pedro Sánchez really wants to be Prime Minister. The Socialist Party has been mostly flat in the polls for months, slowly trending down from 23% at the beginning of the year to 19% in the Metroscopia poll in El País on May 13. Articles had recently appeared wondering if Mr Sánchez had anything relevant to say at all. His only notable intervention of late had been a meeting with Mariano Rajoy at Moncloa, the Prime Minister’s office, to agree on a joint response to the challenge posed by Quim Torra, the new separatist First Minister of Catalonia, whom Mr Sánchez then decided to frame as “Spain’s Le Pen”, “a racist and a supremacist”.
With the publication of the Gürtel fraud case judgement on Thursday, the Socialist Party, which holds 84 out of 350 seats in Congress, has seized on an opportunity to move back into the political spotlight and oust the Popular Party from power with a motion of no confidence.
Mariano Rajoy, famously unresponsive as political scandals erupt and opponents die off, wants to stay on as Prime Minister, of course, but this is a serious crisis: El País has characterised it as a “national emergency”. It is such a big mess that the PM felt he had to cancel his trip to Kiev to watch Real Madrid in the Champions League final. He gave an unscheduled press conference on Friday afternoon, accompanied by his ministers, and accused Mr Sánchez of wanting to destabilise Spain and wreck the country’s economic recovery. Moncloa sent out an unsigned, unofficial, unstamped “economic report” on Saturday, warning that the socialist motion of no confidence would cost €5 billion and 6,500 jobs.
PP spokesman Fernando Martínez Maíllo said Mr Sánchez would become the “Judas of Spanish politics” if he did a deal with Catalan separatists to take power. The Popular Party and Mr Rajoy himself—also sliding inexorably downwards in the polls—sense real danger in the PSOE’s move. This, as the saying goes, could be it.
Ciudadanos’ young leader Albert Rivera would also love to be Prime Minister but he has a problem. Although still short of the percentage of the vote required for an overall majority (about 44% in Spain), his is the only one of the four main parties that have been doing well in the polls, slowly trending upwards towards 30%, 7-10 points ahead of the PP and the PSOE. But polls are just polls, and the next general election was scheduled for 2020, not now. Now, in the real world, Mr Rivera controls just 32 seats in Congress. That is not even enough to table his own motion of no confidence, which has been part of the Ciudadanos response this weekend. So Mr Rivera is demanding an immediate early election. Mr Rajoy cannot call one for now: the Constitution prohibits it because the PSOE’s motion of no confidence is underway, although there was some disagreement about the legal technicalities of that point. On Saturday, after the PSOE suggested it would call an election—in a few months time—to earn Ciudadanos’ support, Mr Rivera hardened his stance, also demanding Mr Sánchez not be the replacement candidate for PM.
That leaves poor old Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, who no doubt would also like to be Prime Minister but is having trouble running his party and a new luxury home outside of Madrid, never mind the country. This new and unexpected “very deep political crisis” (El Mundo) at least takes the media pressure off him and his partner, Podemos parliamentary spokeswoman Irene Montero, for a few hours, as they wait to count the votes on Sunday evening. Will party members back their incoherent real-estate purchase—a €540,000 mortgage over 30 years with the savings bank that handles Catalan separatist donations—or will they throw the book at the couple, and throw them out as party leaders and as MPs in Congress? For now, Mr Iglesias has offered the PSOE his party’s unconditional support for the motion of no confidence: 71 votes, if we add up the national party and the regional branches.
Where might Mr Sánchez get the rest of the support he needs? He only has two options: either he smooths things over with Ciudadanos and does a deal on an early election—tricky given Mr Rivera’s increasingly harsh demands—or he puts together a motley coalition of regional nationalists. He would need both Catalan separatist parties and then either the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) or EH Bildu—the closest political party to the now-defunct Basque terror group ETA—and the Canary Islands Coalition.
Some in Spain call this the Frankenstein option and the most relevant question, given the declaration of independence in Catalonia on October 27 last year and the ongoing suspension of home rule, is what Catalan separatists would get in return for supporting Mr Sánchez. The mind boggles. Beyond the very important matter of the secession of Catalonia, he does not yet appear to have a discernible plan for government, so even if he did win the vote, how would he then govern? If the Frankenstein group had to be consulted for every bill and amendment, Spain would be in for a very rocky ride indeed.
Were Mr Sánchez to fail and Mariano Rajoy to hang on by the skin of his teeth—again—the remaining year or two of this parliament under a now discredited PP government would, as El País wrote in its editorial on Saturday, be “agonising”. An early election would be the sensible option for Spaniards, but parliamentary democracy does not work like that and neither the incumbent nor the challenger really wants a ballot.