After nine months, two elections and a dramatic revolt in the 137-year-old Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, the machinery of Spanish politics broke free of its gridlock at the weekend in a pivotal shift that might finally allow acting Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to take office for a second term.
Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez, the main obstacle to the caretaker prime minister’s ambitions, resigned late on Saturday, pushed out after more than 10 hours of tempestuous talks in Madrid by rebels demanding he drop his opposition to Rajoy’s People’s Party.
With 85 lawmakers in the 350-strong parliament, the second-biggest delegation, Sanchez had wielded an effective veto over Rajoy’s efforts, even though he was unable to deliver on his own plans for an anti-People’s Party coalition.
The caretaker administration appointed to replace Sanchez was scheduled to meet for the first time yesterday at 12pm in Madrid. On its to-do list was planning a new leadership election and working out how to handle the humiliating business of putting its traditional rival into power.
Rajoy last month came within a handful of ballots of winning a confidence vote, with the support of the pro-market liberals of Ciudadanos, and needs to win parliament’s backing before the end of this month or a third election will be triggered.
“The Socialists cannot afford to go to new elections because they would be pressing the self-destruction button,” said Antonio Barroso, a political analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London.
“They have lost negotiating power and Rajoy can take advantage,” Barroso said.
The showdown on Saturday between the Sanchez loyalists and the rebel faction on the party’s federal committee was first delayed by arguments about the agenda for the meeting, how the poll would take place and even who could vote.
At one point, the leader’s supporters set up a ballot box and started collecting ballot papers before the rebels intervened, insisting it had to be a show of hands.
Once it got started, the proceedings were relayed live via social media, a spectacle that was greeted with dismay by many party veterans and anger by crowds of Sanchez supporters gathered on the pavement outside party headquarters chanting and waving placards in defense of their leader and booing anyone who entered the meeting.
Sanchez’s call for an emergency leadership election to ratify his opposition to Rajoy was ultimately rejected by 133 votes to 107, leaving him little choice but to step down.
Sanchez had been trying to rally support for an anti-Rajoy alliance since Rajoy lost his majority in a general election in December last year.
Socialist lawmakers voted against the caretaker prime minister’s candidacy in two confidence votes in August and last month, but the party failed to bridge the ideological differences between anti-establishment group Podemos and the liberals of Ciudadanos, his most obvious allies.
The group’s interim leadership will have to negotiate the terms of its support with Rajoy.
He can then inform Spanish King Felipe VI that he has the backing required to win a confidence vote, allowing the king to propose another ballot. That process should take about two weeks.
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