MADRID – Spanish lawmakers have for a second time blocked caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in his bid to stay in office following a collapse in talks with a left-wing party amid disagreements over the distribution of ministries, leaks and accusations of disrespect.
Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Sanchez had been banking on the votes of Unidas Podemos (“United We Can), a grassroots party led by Pablo Iglesias, to scoop up the simple parliamentary majority he required to remain office, more yes votes than no.
Following the break-up in talks, Podemos, which has 42 seats in the 350-seat parliament, abstained, meaning the votes from the right-wing benches easily eclipsed votes in favor from government benches. Sanchez was defeated 156 to 124 with 66 abstentions.
Earlier, Sanchez addressed the lower house to explain the collapse in discussions.
He said: “It was never a problem of agenda.”
“The problem was the ministries, Iglesias wanted to control the government, 100 percent of the government’s spending, being the fourth party.”
Podemos had initially proposed it control four ministries: labor, health, housing and science, universities and housing, areas where the party could push its progressive social policies.
“We can’t leave the public treasury in the hands of someone who has never managed a budget,” he said.
Iglesias’ plan, Sanchez said, would have created two governments within one.
Iglesias, who had been shaking his head throughout the acting PM’s speech, retorted.
“Do you believe that in these last few weeks, you have treated us the way a government partner deserves to be treated?” he said. “You have lacked respect.”
Iglesias highlighted the fact that Podemos had supported Sanchez in his successful no-confidence motion against his predecessor Mariano Rajoy, a conservative, which automatically made the PSOE leader prime minister until he called snap elections for April 2019.
Sanchez won that vote, but failed to shore up an absolute majority, prompting him to seek the first coalition government in the country’s modern democratic history.
Just before the negotiations, PSOE levied a condition that it would not accept Iglesias at a ministerial position. Iglesias agreed to it.
The left-wing leader lamented that the PSOE vice-president Carmen Calvo had leaked information from the negotiating room.
“We accepted everything you proposed, including an unprecedented personal veto,” he said.
Podemos wanted the power to raise the minimum wage, put a halt on the privatization of the health sector, introduce euthanasia laws and reduce tuition fees, Iglesias said.
He also revealed Podemos had renounced its claim on labor ministry but PSOE had not ceded.
“We did not ask for anything more.”
Iglesias concluded, however, that his party would remain open to further talks and urged the acting PM not to bring the country back to the polls.
Pablo Casado, leader of the conservative Popular Party, Albert Rivera of the center-right Ciudadanos and Santiago Abascal, head of the far-right Vox, reveled in Sanchez’s failure.
Gabriel Ruffian, a Catalan separatist MP in the chamber, tried to mediate between PSOE and Podemos.
“Mr. Sanchez, it was an error to veto Iglesias. Mr. Iglesias, it was an error to not accept, three, four or five ministries. Go into government and prove that you are more competent,” he said.
“Look at the Right, they are loving it. They are over the moon. If they had been giving this much time to make a deal, they would have already come to an agreement that stretched as far as bonuses!”
Sanchez not only needed Podemos’ support, but he needed the Catalan separatists and the Basque regionalists in the chamber to abstain.
Although it is possible Spaniards could return to the polls for the fourth time in as many years, Sanchez may have another chance at landing parliamentary backing in another vote, likely on Sept. 23.