Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Picture: REUTERS/MARCELO DEL POZO
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez. Picture: REUTERS/MARCELO DEL POZO

Madrid — Spain’s parliament will vote on Tuesday on whether to confirm Socialist Workers’ Party leader Pedro Sánchez as prime minister at the helm of the country’s first-ever coalition government.

Sánchez, who has stayed on as a caretaker premier since inconclusive elections in 2019, is seeking to be appointed for another term. He wants to form a minority coalition government with hard-left party Podemos this time around.

On Sunday, Sánchez lost a first confidence vote having failed to win backing from an absolute majority in the 350-seat parliament. He now faces a second vote on Tuesday when he needs just a simple majority — more yes votes than no — to remain prime minister.

While the political maths works in his favour after the Socialists struck a deal last week with the 13 lawmakers from Catalan separatist party ERC to abstain, the numbers still look tight.

At the latest count, Sánchez could win on Tuesday by a margin of just two votes after the sole lawmaker from the regional Coalición Canaria formation broke party ranks at the weekend to say she would vote against him instead of abstaining.

Spain, the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy, has been in political gridlock without a proper government for most of the past year after two inconclusive elections in April and November 2019. Sánchez’s Socialists won a repeat November 10 poll but were weakened, taking 120 seats — three fewer than in April — in an election that saw far-right party Vox surge to third place.

Sánchez quickly struck a deal with Podemos to form what would be the first post-dictatorship coalition government in Spain, despite having previously said that a coalition with the far-left party would keep him up at night.

‘Progressive coalition’

The two parties are pledging to lift the minimum wage, raise taxes on high earners and large businesses, and repeal elements of Spain’s controversial 2012 labour market reforms that made it easier to fire workers — measures that have alarmed business leaders who warn they will hurt job creation.

With the two formations’ combined total of 155 seats still falling short of a majority, Sánchez has also secured the support or abstention of several smaller regional parties, including the ERC, which could let him squeak by in Tuesday’s second confidence vote.

As part of the deal with the ERC, Sánchez has agreed that the national government hold talks with Catalonia’s separatist regional government to resolve the “political conflict” over the future of the wealthy northeastern region.

The political situation in Catalonia remains in flux following a 2017 independence referendum which Madrid declared unconstitutional.

“This progressive coalition is the best antidote against this coalition of the apocalypse,” Sánchez said on Sunday in a reference to Spain’s conservative parties — the Popular Party (PP), Ciudadanos and Vox — who accuse him of putting national unity at risk with his deal with Catalan separatists.

‘Remains tricky’

PP leader Pablo Casado accused Sánchez of forming a “Frankenstein government” made up of “communists” and “separatists” who “want to put an end to Spain”, and warned that the government the Socialist leader is proposing would be unable to govern and not last the full four years.

Sánchez came to power in June 2018 after ousting his PP predecessor Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote, but he was forced to call elections in April after Catalan separatists, including the ERC, refused to back his draft budget.

“The political landscape remains tricky,” ING analyst Steven Trypsteen said. “The new government would be a minority government, the Catalan tensions could flare up again ... and the fiscal situation makes it difficult to increase spending a lot.” 

AFP