The winners and losers in Spain’s political deadlock

Are Spain’s politicians capable of taking advantage of the most serious political deadlock since the death of Franco?

Spain''s acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy addresses deputies during an investiture debate at parliament in Madrid, Spain [REUTERS]
Mariano Rajoy addresses deputies during an investiture debate at parliament in Madrid, Spain [REUTERS]

After the general elections in December, in which no party managed to obtain a majority to form a government, several political analysts warned that Spain was entering the “rocky life of Italian politics”.

The problem is not simply going to be the instability of coalition governments, which is still evident even in Italy today, but rather whether Spanish politicians are up to the job. Italian politics might have a bad reputation – from corruption scandals to unstable coalitions – but their politicians, formed in the best Machiavellian tradition, have always been able to turn political deadlock into opportunities to consolidate their positions.

Inside Story – Political uncertainty in Spain

Giulio Andreotti, Silvio Berlusconi and now Matteo Renzi are good examples. But are the leaders of the the traditional parties (Mariano Rajoy and Pedro Sanchez) and newcomers (Pablo Iglesias and Albert Rivera) capable of taking advantage of the most serious political deadlock this nation finds itself in since the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1975?

To respond to this question, let’s see who are the winners and the losers of this deadlock.

Political deadlock

In January, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy refused King Felipe VI’s offer to form a government. His reasons were simple: even though his party – the People’s Party – won a majority of seats (123) in the general elections, he could not find an ally to reach the 176 required for absolute majority.

ALSO READ: Reign in Spain – can Felipe save the monarchy?

Although he called upon the Socialist Party and the centre right Ciudadanos to form a grand coalition similar to the one in office in Germany, both Sanchez and Rivera, the respective party leaders, refused his offer.

Socialists Party leader Pedro Sanchez [REUTERS]
Socialists Party leader Pedro Sanchez [REUTERS]

While the former, who obtained 90 seats, believes the People’s Party corruption charges prevent them from governing any more, the latter, who reached 40 seats, thinks Rajoy must be replaced by someone else within his party to respond to the political change Spaniards demanded in the elections by putting an end to the two-party system.

In these circumstances, the king had no option other than to ask the socialist leader to form a government in the hope that he could unlock this political impasse.

Contrary to Rajoy, Sanchez accepted the king’s offer and in February drafted a document to bring together all the parties that could potentially be part of a progressive and pro-reform coalition.

These did not only include Podemos and Ciudadanos, but also the United Left and regional parties such as the Basque Nationalist Party and the Canary Coalition. As it turned out, only Ciudadanos signed the agreement and endorsed Sanchez’s bid to become prime minister.

The king now has two options: either ask someone else to form a government, which seems unlikely, or wait for another formation to seek a new agreement.


The king’s options

While Podemos considered the deal futile since it did not include necessary economic measures to face the ongoing social crisis (unemployment remains over 20 percent) or urgent constitutional reforms (the admission of a referendum on the Catalan independence), Rajoy thought the agreement was simply “not enough for an investiture or to form a government”.

Sanchez, instead of working out a new agreement with Podemos, which seems its most natural ally in the eyes of the public opinion, decided to stick with Ciudadanos.

The outcome of the vote was inevitable: Sanchez lost a first vote in Congress last Wednesday and a second on Friday. What happens now?

According to Article 99 of the Constitution, the king now has two options: either ask someone else to form a government, which seems unlikely, or wait for another formation to seek a new agreement.

If this new agreement is not found within the next two months, the king will be forced to dissolve the courts and call on new elections.

As Rajoy recently told British Prime Minister David Cameron in informal talks, this second scenario seems to be the most likely, but it is not necessarily in his favour or in that of any of the other leaders.

Italian comedy

Already on Friday night, after Sanchez’s second investiture failed, accusations and pressures began to emerge not only between parties, but also within them.

ALSO READ: Far-left Podemos has already changed Spain

For example, while Sanchez accused Podemos of giving Rajoy a second chance by voting against him, the latter accused Rivera and Sanchez of wasting public money with their hopeless agreement.


According to a poll released on Friday, Iglesias’s decision to obstruct Sanchez investiture was considered a mistake by the majority of his supporters, as shown by the resignation in protest of one of his European deputies, Carlos Jimenez Villarejo.

As we can predict, Spaniards are becoming tired of this “Italian comedy” and might soon lose their patience. The fact that Sanchez and Rivera, contrary to Rajoy, at least tried to form a government now plays in their favour.

Even though they seem to be the winners of this political deadlock, it is unclear whether they will manage to convince Podemos through a new agreement.

The king, who is already under pressure becasue of his sister’s involvement in corruption allegations, has two very complicated months ahead. Let’s see if he doesn’t lose his patience.

Santiago Zabala is ICREA research professor of philosophy at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. He is the author and editor of, among others, The Future of Religion (2005), The Hermeneutic Nature of Analytic Philosophy (2008), Art’s Claim to Truth (2008), The Remains of Being (2009), Hermeneutic Communism (2011, coauthored with G Vattimo) all published by Columbia University Press and translated into several languages.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.