Spanish King Felipe VI on Tuesday ordered caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to attempt to form a government.
Sánchez’s Socialist Party came second in July’s inconclusive national election, in which the center-right Popular Party won the most votes. Conservative leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo attempted to form a government but last week failed to obtain the majority support of the Spanish parliament needed to become prime minister.
Socialist leader Sánchez, who has governed Spain since he led a successful no-confidence vote against conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in 2018, does not control enough seats in the parliament to govern on his own and will need to obtain the support of a slew of far-left and separatist parties in order to remain in power.
Sánchez is widely expected to attempt to form a minority government with Yolanda Díaz’s far-left Sumar coalition, a successor of the Podemos party with which the Socialists governed during the previous legislature, and to seek outside support from groups like the Basque Nationalist Party, the Basque separatist EH Bildu party and the Galician Nationalist Bloc.
His most difficult task will be earning the crucial backing of the Catalan separatist Junts group and the Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC), both of which are demanding a blanket amnesty for everyone implicated in the failed 2017 Catalan independence referendum and Madrid’s explicit consent to hold a new vote on self-determination.
While Sánchez has indicated that he is willing to give in to the amnesty demands, his Socialist party firmly rejects the possibility of authorizing a new independence vote.
Current Catalan President and ERC leader Pere Aragonès last week stressed that the demand was non-negotiable, declaring that “if Sánchez wants to be prime minister, he must commit to holding a vote in Catalonia.”
While Junts has signed onto a memorandum with the ERC that sets the new referendum as a decisive factor for its support for Sánchez, the party’s leader, the self-exiled former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont, has so far avoided explicitly conditioning his backing to that vote.
It’s unclear if Sánchez’s negotiators will be able to find a way to get the groups — which are both individually attempting to extract ever-greater concessions from Madrid in order to become the dominant Catalan separatist party — to compromise.
The Socialist leader will need to work quickly to forge agreements because Feijóo’s rejection by Spanish lawmakers last week set off a two-month countdown, at the end of which parliament must be dissolved if no other candidate to be prime minister secures sufficient support.
If Sánchez fails to obtain the backing of a majority of lawmakers by November 27, Spain will have to hold new elections on January 14, 2024.
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