First Look Stalemate

Four months after the Spanish general election in April, Spain is still awaiting a government after tensions between the Socialists and the Unidas Podemos (UP) party remain unresolved.

The Socialists, under Pedro Sánchez, won 123 seats in the April election, making them the most-voted party but coming far short of the 176 required for a majority. A left-wing coalition government is only possible with the backing of UP, who won 42 seats in April, and a group of smaller regional parties. However, Sánchez has flatly refused to grant UP’s request that their charismatic leader, Pablo Iglesias, should receive a cabinet post in the new government in exchange for their support.

One reason for Sánchez’s refusal to include Iglesias is Catalonia, and the potent mix of nationalist sentiments that has arisen around its separatism campaign. UP don’t support Catalan independence, but they do believe that a Scottish-style referendum should be permitted on the issue. This, according to Sánchez, is unconstitutional, and bringing a referendum supporter into government will allow right-wing parties to accuse his government of not taking a hard line on the issue.Read more...

  But there is more to the disagreement than this. Sánchez has faced a tough battle winning back the younger, more progressive left-wing voters who defected to UP over the last five years while still appealing to older, more traditional socialist voters. As a result, there is no love lost between the two parties at higher levels.

The Socialists are also aware that Podemos are more than willing to play hardball. In fact, it was their refusal to back the national budget that forced Sánchez to call April’s election in the first place. On the Socialist side there is fury at the upstart party who have stolen “their” voters and made unrealistic demands; on Podemos’s side there is continued distrust of the old, arrogant, established parties who believe they have a divine right to rule.

In late July, Sánchez lost a confidence vote in his proposed government that gives him two months, until September 23rd, to try and arrange a new government. If he can’t, Spain will go to the polls again – something it most certainly has little appetite for, especially considering that any future results are unlikely to change much.

Sánchez may also seek to form a coalition with the centre-right Ciudadanos, or try to reach an agreement to govern in a minority, but these outcomes currently look as unlikely as any impasse in the stalemate with UP.