DESPITE having spent months trying, and failing, after the April 28 elections, the PSOE’s Pedro Sánchez and Unidas Podemos’ Pablo Iglesias have reached a deal – less than 48 hours after Sunday’s repeat elections.
They announced just before lunchtime today (Tuesday) that they had shaken hands on an agreement which would enable them to govern in the coalition and put Sánchez in the presidential seat.
After the election results were announced on Sunday night, with only six seats separating the right from the left, Iglesias appealed to Sánchez to reach an ‘urgent’ coalition pact this time around and avoid a third election which could give the surging far-right a very real chance of getting a foothold in government.
He said Unidas Podemos would base their approach on the ‘social elements of the Spanish Constitution’ – such as the right to dignified housing, equality, healthcare and so on – since these are aspects he considered the PSOE could not disagree on.
Five key members of the two parties sat around a table at the Moncloa Palace, the official presidential residence, and agreed for Sánchez to have two deputy presidents.
One will be Sánchez’s economy minister Nadia Calviño, who fell at the final hurdle in her bid to become president of the International Monetary Fund (FMI) after Christine Lagarde moved to head up the Central European Bank (BCE) after the rôle went to Bulgaria’s World Bank managing director Kristalina Georgieva.
The other will be Iglesias himself, despite Sánchez’s having vetoed this after April.
Unidas Podemos will head up some government departments, although these are expected to be ‘soft ministries’ and not include any ‘State’ organisations such as defence, economy or foreign affairs, nor major structural ones such as the treasury, energy and environmental transition, or employment and pensions.
Sánchez’s determination to govern alone but with merely the ‘approval’ of Unidas Podemos and not to allow them any ministries or a deputy presidency brought the negotiations earlier in the year to a stalemate, and even when Sánchez relented a little and offered Podemos three ‘soft’ ministries and a vice-presidency for Iglesias’ wife and party spokeswoman, Irene Montero, it was still insufficient to break the impasse.
But both the parties realise now that they have no choice other than to join forces, after far-right Vox, which went from nothing to 24 seats in April, secured 53 on Sunday and became the third-largest political force in the country.
Making up the numbers
The PSOE dropped from 123 seats to 120 on Sunday, winning the elections but without a majority – as is likely to be the scenario from now on with so many new, independent parties having joined the mainstream political field.
With 350 seats in Parliament up for grabs, a majority needs 176, and the first round of the in-house investiture vote would need 176 in favour to allow Sánchez to govern.
Unidas Podemos, the fourth-largest political party in the country, has 35 seats – down from 47 in April – meaning along with the PSOE, the left-wing coalition has 155 ‘definites’.
Podemos breakaway group Más País!, led by its former member Íñigo Errejón and running for election for the first time, only gained the expected three seats but is a certainty in voting for the Podemos-PSOE coalition, meaning 158 seats.
The Cantabria Regional Party (PRC), with one seat, and the Aragón provincial party Teruel Existe, with another, have confirmed they will support a left-wing government, bringing the total to 160.
Another seven definites have already come from the Basque National Party (PNV), which has confirmed Sánchez will have their vote, giving 167.
The PSOE is also hoping for the approval of the regional Galician National Bloc (BNG), for 168, and although they have not yet been mentioned, the Canarian Coalition’s two and the Basque reunification party, EH-Bildu, may give their own five votes, leaving just one more to find.
But the PSOE’s original aim was to add Más País!, BNG, PNV, PRC and Teruel Existe, plus ‘yes’ votes from centre-right Ciudadanos which, having gone from being the third-largest party in the country, lost a whopping 47 seats to drop down to just 10, putting them on a par with many of the regional outfits.
This would have given Sánchez 178 ‘yes’ votes, enough to cover the required 176 majorities, but it looks almost certain Ciudadanos will not agree.
Its leader, Albert Rivera, resigned yesterday and opted to leave politics – he has since been seen relaxing in a restaurant with his partner, The Voice judge and long-standing pop vocalist Malú – and is likely to be replaced by Catalunya’s regional spokeswoman for Ciudadanos, Inés Arrimadas.
Until Ciudadanos has a leader, it cannot give a formal agreement or disagreement to Sánchez’s proposals, but it already appears the answer would be ‘no’ as they prefer the PSOE to form a coalition with its main rival, the second-largest and right-leaning party PP, and with Ciudadanos.
This is practically an impossibility, since the PP and the PSOE are direct opposites and, until four or five years ago, the only real parties in contention for any general election.
If Sánchez cannot get Ciudadanos on board, and opts not to approach the Canarian Coalition or EH-Bildu – or is unable to rely on them without substantial concessions for the two regions – he will only have 168 definite ‘yes’ votes and, even with the latter two, would be just one short of a majority.
This could be remedied in the second round of in-house investiture voting, where only a simple majority of more ‘yes’ than ‘no’ votes are needed.
Here, he could try to convince Ciudadanos, or the Catalunya pro-independence parties CUP, JxCAT and ERC which have two, eight and 13 seats respectively, to abstain in the second voting round if they do not wish to give an outright ‘yes’.
Sánchez’s biggest issue there would be having to make possible concessions to parties who want to turn Catalunya into a separate country via a legally-binding referendum – something Sánchez is against, and which much of Parliament could use against him in future electoral campaigns.
The likelihood of the right-leaning parties banding together, which would entrench Vox into Parliament, and ousting Sánchez is improbable: the PP has 88 seats, Vox 52, Ciudadanos 10 and the right-wing regional party in Navarra, NA, has two, giving a total of 152.
But if Sánchez fails in his bid to become invested as president due to insufficient in-house votes, he will be forced to call a third election – and this could see Vox multiply its ballots even further, making a far-right presence in government almost a certainty.