Spain's leftwing trades barbs as new vote looms

Hazel WARD
1 / 3
Spain's Socialist premier Pedro Sanchez said it would have been irresponsible to form a coalition with the radical leftwing Podemos

Squabbling between Spain's leftwing parties erupted Friday with leaders trading mutual recriminations over the failure to form a government as the country braced for its fourth election in as many years.

Spain's most recent political crisis came to a head on Tuesday night when Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said a fresh poll was necessary after he failed to secure support to be confirmed as premier following an inconclusive election in April.

Although his Socialist party won the election, it took just 123 of parliament's 350 seats, and Sanchez pointed the finger at rival parties for failing to support him.

He had initially agreed, very reluctantly, to form a coalition with the radical leftwing Podemos, but the party refused, with its leader Pablo Iglesias saying the government portfolios on offer did not carry enough political clout.

Sanchez then withdrew the offer, and refused to negotiate further, offering Iglesias only talks on a joint policy programme, in a dispute which was never resolved.

Sanchez said late Thursday that forming a coalition with Podemos and handing control of the interior ministry or portfolios such as energy or social security to those with "little experience of politics or public management", would have been irresponsible.

"I would have been a head of government who didn't sleep at night, along with 95 percent of people who also wouldn't have been at ease, including Podemos voters," he said in an interview with TV channel La Sexta.

Iglesias was quick to hit back on Friday, telling Antena 3 television that Sanchez had lied to him, saying the Socialists "never wanted a coalition government".

"He lied to me... and I trusted him."

- Leadership struggle -

And Sanchez's remarks about not sleeping at night if he were to have formed a coalition with Podemos showed "a lack of respect for a lot of people", he said.

"People in our country are suffering a lot, and one of the reasons is the lack of government."

The problem was Sanchez himself, Iglesias argued. "He wants all the power so he can sleep well at night, but for that, you need an absolute majority. If you only have 123 MPs, you have to... negotiate."

The eurozone's fourth largest economy has been gripped by political instability since the traditional two-party system collapsed in the December 2015 election with the emergence of Podemos and business-friendly Ciudadanos.

Since then parliament has been deeply divided, with the Socialists and Podemos caught up in a long-term struggle for leadership of the left.

Sanchez has urged voters to hand his Socialists a clear majority when they go back to the polls on November 10, but analysts say the outcome is not likely to change much.

"Opinion polls have remained largely stable since the April election and recent seat projections suggest new elections would likely yield a similar result," wrote Eurasia Group analyst Federico Santi.

The Socialists were likely to improve their numbers slightly, while support for Podemos was seen declining marginally but essentially leaving the parties in a position where they would again have to negotiate.

- Potential new player? -

What could complicate the picture for Iglesias, however, is if his former friend and right-hand man, Inigo Errejon, were to throw his hat into the ring at the helm of a new party.

Earlier this year, Iglesias and Errejon, who founded Podemos, had a very public fallout that caused a deep rift within the party that was only resolved when Iglesias won a clear mandate to continue as leader in February.

With the election looming, several Spanish newspapers published reports suggesting Errejon was poised to launch his own party in a move which would likely harm Podemos.

Earlier this year, Errejon co-launched a new leftist platform, Mas Madrid, which ran against Podemos in regional elections in May, weakening support for his former party.

"By eroding support for Podemos and splintering the left vote, this could significantly undermine the left's performance in terms of the seat distribution, and potentially even deprive it of a majority," Santi warned.

Sanchez came to power in June 2018 by winning a no-confidence vote against his conservative predecessor Mariano Rajoy with the support of Podemos as well as Catalan separatist parties and Basque nationalists.