Spanish caretaker PM fails in second attempt to form government

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Podemos abstains from second round of voting after it could not reach deal with Socialists

Spain’s Socialist caretaker prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has failed at a second attempt to form a government after he could not reach agreement with his only potential coalition partner, the anti-austerity party Unidas Podemos.

Sánchez only needed a simple majority in parliament to get a deal across the line but after 48 hours of hectic negotiating the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, announced his party would abstain during the second round of voting and the result was 124 in Sánchez’s favour, 155 against and 67 abstentions.

“What’s the use of the left if we lose even when we win?” an exasperated Sánchez asked Iglesias before the vote.

The sticking point has been Podemos’s desire for more ministerial positions than Sánchez was willing to offer, in particular the portfolio of the exchequer.

“I aspire to preside over the Spanish government but not at any price,” Sánchez said. “We can’t put the public exchequer in the hands of someone who has never managed a state budget.”

As both sides sought to blame the other, Sánchez’s deputy, Carmen Calvo, complained that Podemos had not given an inch in the negotiations since Tuesday’s failed investiture and had pushed for what it had wanted all along, “a government within the government”.

“We ask for respect,” Iglesias said in reply to Sánchez. “It’s difficult to negotiate in 48 hours what we haven’t been able to achieve in 80 days. What we are asking for is competencies, not armchairs.”

Minutes before the voting began, Iglesias announced that Podemos was prepared to renounce running the ministry of employment in return for having a say in employment legislation, but this too was rejected.

Last weekend when Iglesias agreed to step aside as Podemos leader after Sánchez described him as the principal obstacle to achieving a coalition government, Spain seemed on course for its first left-leaning government in seven years.

However, although there has been ample opportunity since an inconclusive election in April to reach an agreement, the parties remain locked in a stalemate.

“I think what Sánchez offered Podemos was very positive because it offered them a real role in the cabinet,” said Pablo Simón, a political scientist at Carlos III University in Madrid. “Both parties have been damaged by this process. In September we need to see if the Socialists change their strategy and also if the Basque and Catalan parties change their current policy of abstaining. Ultimately, though, all this could have been settled.”

Sánchez will continue as acting prime minister and Congress will reconvene no later than 23 September when he make a third and final attempt to form a government. If he fails to win the necessary support, a general election will be held on 10 November, the fourth in as many years.

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