Spain looks set to hold its fourth election in four years in November after last-minute initiatives to break a months-long impasse failed to achieve a breakthrough – but there is no guarantee the repeat poll will make the formation of a government any easier.
“Spain is bound to hold new elections on November 10,” acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told a news conference late on Tuesday after King Felipe VI met party leaders and concluded there was no candidate with enough support in the country’s deeply fragmented legislature to form a coalition.
Spain has been in political limbo since Sanchez’s Socialists (PSOE) won the most votes in a parliamentary election in April but fell short of a majority in the 350-seat Parliament which would have allowed them to govern on their own. That left Sanchez dependent on support from other parties to be confirmed prime minister for another term.
Despite months of on-and-off contacts, Sanchez’s negotiations with Podemos, the PSOE’s leftist rival and most likely partner, collapsed. He was also unable to reach a deal with the conservative Popular Party (PP) and the centre-right Ciudadanos, which refused to help him to form a minority government by abstaining in a confidence vote.
Sanchez had until next Monday to be confirmed through a confidence vote in parliament or else fresh elections would be automatically called for November 10, but his talks with other parties to try to win their backing have been fruitless.
On Tuesday, after wrapping up two days of talks with party leaders, King Felipe VI said in a statement that he would not put forward a new candidate to seek the confidence of parliament to become prime minister because no party leader had majority support in the assembly.
For his part, Sanchez blamed his rivals for the deadlock, saying he had tried “by all possible means but they made it impossible for us”.
The 47-year-old urged Spaniards to “speak more clearly” when they vote again by increasing the PSOEs’ majority and give the country the “stability” needed to “face the great challenges” before it.
Spain, the fourth-largest eurozone economy, faces several problems for which it needs a stable government: an ongoing separatist movement in its northeastern region of Catalonia, high unemployment, low wages and job insecurity.
The country has been gripped by political instability since the December 2015 elections ended the traditional two-party system with the emergence of Podemos and Ciudadanos. Meanwhile, the rise of far-right upstart Vox, which entered parliament following April’s election, has further complicated the political picture.
Polls suggest the PSOE would win more seats in a repeat election but still fall short of a majority.
“A new election would return another fragmented parliament, which means the country would probably not have a government before the end of the year,” Antonio Barroso, managing director with Teneo, a global advisory firm, told AFP news agency.
Sanchez failed twice in July to be confirmed by the assembly after he was unable to reach an agreement with Podemos over the formation of a coalition government.
The PSOE had initially agreed to form a coalition, albeit reluctantly, with Podemos, offering several government portfolios, but the far-left party refused, saying the posts did not carry enough political clout.
Talks were restarted between the two parties, but the negotiations again hit an impasse.
Another potential solution was raised on Monday by Ciudadanos, which laid out its conditions for abstaining from any vote of confidence which would enable Sanchez to be confirmed without requiring the support of Podemos.
The business-friendly party led by Albert Rivera had until then refused to extend any support to Sanchez.
Rivera proposed that Ciudadanos and the PP jointly abstain during any investiture vote. But the PP, whose votes would be needed for this option to work, rejected it.
In a tweet, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias said Sanchez had made a “huge historical mistake forcing another election because of an obsession with hoarding absolute power”.
Sanchez came to power in June 2018 by winning a surprise no-confidence vote against conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy of the PP, with the support of Podemos as well as Catalan separatist parties and Basque nationalists.