Spanish acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said today (10 August) that his conservative People’s Party (PP) would hold a leadership vote next week on a reform pact proposed by centrists Ciudadanos as a condition of their support to form a long-awaited government.
Agreement between Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) and the PP – which won the most votes in a June election re-run but fell short of a majority – would mark the biggest step yet in ending a near eight-month political morass. Until now Ciudadanos had said only that it would abstain in any parliamentary confidence vote to install Rajoy as prime minister.
Though the PP would still need support from other forces to form a stable government and press on with an economic recovery, a shift from Ciudadanos, Spain’s fourth biggest party, could encourage others to ease objections to a conservative government.
Rajoy told a news conference that the Executive Committee – a body of about 100 people largely loyal to Rajoy – would vote on 17 August on whether to back a six-point political reform package proposed on Tuesday by Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera. He would not say whether he supported the package as presented.
“Spaniards want a government and we hope we can start negotiations with Ciudadanos as soon as possible,” Rajoy said. “The PP will do everything in its power.”
The reforms could yet prove unpalatable for PP leaders, given they are aimed at tackling corruption scandals that have tainted their party, and at changing an electoral system that benefits larger forces.
But without an agreement, Spain may have little option but to hold its third election in a year.
With support from Cuidadanos, a natural ally for the PP on economic matters, Rajoy would still be seven seats shy of the 176 he needs in the 350-strong lower house of parliament for an absolute majority.
Their endorsement would, however, pile more pressure on the second-placed Socialists to abstain in a confidence vote or be blamed for worsening the deadlock as worries rise over its impact on Spain’s strong economic recovery.
So far growth has continued unhindered, outperforming many of its European peers, but important deadlines are approaching. Without a government, Spain will struggle to deliver its 2017 budget plans to Brussels by mid-October.
There were few signs on Wednesday that the Socialists, under leader Pedro Sanchez, were yet willing to end their decades-long rivalry with the PP, though some former leaders have called on the party to change its stance.
“The PSOE has its position, it is clear … there was a long, in-depth debate and that position is to vote no,” Oscar Lopez, a senior Socialist party member, said in a TV interview.
Rajoy said he would continue to try to persuade the Socialists to back him. A third national election, according to polls, would likely deliver a similarly fractured result.
“If Sanchez maintains his ‘no’ position, we will again hold elections,” Rajoy said.
Rajoy has yet to commit to a confidence vote, despite accepting a mandate from the king last month to form a government.
He declined to specify a date for the vote beyond saying he hoped to have a government in place that can deliver a budget to parliament before the end of September.
Rivera said he hoped the confidence vote would take place either in August or in early September.
“Spaniards’ patience has a limit,” he said.