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Election leaves Sánchez with options but no clear choices

Socialists' victory at the polls leaves the acting president short of a majority and in need of allies to be able to form an executive


11 November 2019 06:59 PM


Neil Stokes | Barcelona

Rather than consolidating the Socialist Party's position in the Spanish Congress, Sunday's general election has left acting president, Pedro Sánchez, with a huge headache if he wants to engineer the "progressive government" he called for once the results were out.

Despite winning the election, Sánchez's Socialists have 120 seats, three less than before and below the 176 needed for a majority. The only solution is to reach agreements with other parties, but even though there are now 16 groups in parliament, that will be no easy matter.

European Commission spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, said as much on Monday, when she played down the importance of the far right's surge - "that's democracy," she said - but she acknowledged "it will not be easy for [acting] president Sánchez to form a majority."

Socialists rule out "grand coalition" with PP

The easiest solution out of the political impasse for Sánchez would be simply to form an alliance with the conservative People's Party, which recovered from its poor showing in April's election, coming away on Sunday with 88 seats in the chamber.

However on Monday, the Socialists ruled out any "grand coalition" with PP, with party secretary, José Luis Ábalos, saying "we are not in favor of a grand coalition with the right that does not accept its responsibilities."

"We've had to face the crisis in Catalonia entirely alone," said Ábalos, who added that "we will try not to have to depend on the pro-independence parties, but we already know that we cannot depend on the support of PP."

"With Iglesias, yes," cried PSOE activists

In his address to party supporters on Sunday, Sánchez called for "responsibility" and "generosity" from the other parties, and on the same night the left-wing Podemos party leader, Pablo Iglesias, reached out to Sánchez, offering Podemos' 35 seats in a coalition.

Nevertheless, Sánchez's PSOE and Iglesias' Podemos together would still only have 155 seats, and the previous coalition talks between the two parties repeatedly broke down, forcing the Socialist leader to call the November 10 snap election.

Yet, on Monday, Jaume Asens, the head of Podemos affiliate in Catalonia, En Comú Podem, warned that "the precipice is close," referring to far-right Vox winning 52 seats, and he called on Sánchez to listen to his own supporters, who on Sunday cried out "with Iglesias, yes."

"The mandate of the party activists is now much clearer, which is the same as that from the ballot boxes; that the plurality be translated into an agreement," added Asens, whose party held on to its seven seats in Congress on Sunday.

ERC calls on Sánchez to "listen"

As any potential alliance between PSOE and Podemos would still require more support, the pro-independence parties, especially on the left, would be the natural place to look, despite Ábolos all but ruling out any deals with parties in favor of a Catalan republic. 

Esquerra Republicana (ERC), which came out top among Catalan parties in the election with 13 seats, believes Sánchez has two options: "buy" the discourse of the right, or "listen" to the ballot boxes and "sit down" and negotiate a democratic solution for Catalonia.

ERC's spokeswoman, Marta Vilalta, said on Monday that her party offered a solution through self-determination for Catalonia and an amnesty for jailed pro-independence leaders that would end the "repression" and restore respect for Catalan institutions.

JxCat urges "self-criticism" from Sánchez

The leader of the pro-independence Junts per Catalunya party (JxCat), Laura Borràs, called on Sánchez to "accept his responsibility and begin doing politics," and she added that if the acting president could not exercise "self-criticism" then he should step aside.

Borràs also repeated her offer to form a "common strategy" with ERC and CUP, the other pro-independence parties in Congress, which together have 23 seats, after her initial offer before the election was either ignored or rejected.

As for CUP, which debuted in Congress with two seats, far-left party MP, Mireia Vehí, said "we aren't in Congress to win anything because it's impossible, the arithmetic makes it very difficult for there even to be a minimum course for the pro-independence parties."