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article imageSpain PM loses confidence vote after coalition talks fail

By Marianne BARRIAUX (AFP)     Jul 25, 2019 in World

Spain's caretaker socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez lost a crunch post-election vote of confidence on Thursday after coalition talks with the far-left failed, pushing the country closer to repeat polls.

Sanchez faced the vote in parliament after his Socialist party won most seats in an inconclusive general election in April but without securing a majority in the 350-seat house.

On Thursday, apart from the 123 lawmakers of his own party, just one other deputy from a regional grouping supported the Socialist leader, leaving him far from the simple majority he needed to go through.

Sanchez now has another two months to find ways of getting support, either for a minority or a coalition government.

Without a deal, Spain will have to go back to the polls in November in what would be its fourth general election in as many years.

Sanchez needed the support of smaller parties in parliament to win the confidence vote
Sanchez needed the support of smaller parties in parliament to win the confidence vote

The country faces several challenges: an ongoing separatist movement in its northeastern region of Catalonia, high unemployment, low wages and job insecurity.

During an interview with private television Telecinco late on Thursday, Sanchez said he would start working "now" to ensure Spain has a new government "as soon as possible" and avoid fresh polls.

"I will not throw in the towel," he added.

- 'Ultimately succeed' -

Representatives from the socialists and the far-left Podemos party had been working to secure a deal for what would have been Spain's first post-dictatorship coalition government. But talks stalled on Wednesday evening.

Far-left Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias was accused of wanting to control the government
Far-left Podemos party leader Pablo Iglesias was accused of wanting to control the government

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias "wanted to enter government to control the government," Sanchez told parliament, despite Podemos coming fourth in the April general election.

He said Podemos's proposals entailed "controlling 80 percent of government expenditure."

Iglesias retorted that Sanchez had done little to negotiate a government since April.

Both sides had agreed to give Podemos the post of deputy prime minister with responsibility for social issues and the health ministry.

But Podemos also wanted the science and labour ministries, which the Socialist party (PSOE) refused, preferring to give it the housing and equality portfolios.

Federico Santi, senior analyst at the think-tank Eurasia, predicted Sanchez's Socialists would "ultimately succeed" in forming a coalition government with Podemos.

"There is pressure from both parties' bases to reach an agreement," he said.

Podemos and the Socialists have accused each other of blocking negotiations as mutual distrust rides high.

Both sides will have to "work hard for there to be a coalition government" since there is "bad chemistry" between Sanchez and Iglesias, political analyst Manuel Mostaza of consulting firm Atrevia told AFP.

But he added "two months is a long time to heal wounds."

- 'Really disappointed' -

Since 2015, Spain has shifted from a two-party system to a deeply fragmented parliament with the emergence of Podemos, liberal party Ciudadanos and more recently, the far-right Vox.

That has resulted in minority governments which have been unable to get any major reforms through, and Sanchez was forced to call early elections in February when his draft budget was rejected.

Apart from Podemos's vote, Sanchez also would have needed the backing of several other lawmakers from regional parties.

But even the abstention of key Catalan and Basque separatist parties was not enough, as right-wing parties voted against Sanchez.

Fresh elections "would not necessarily improve Sanchez's chances of being re-appointed" as they would probably result in "another strong Socialist victory within another highly fragmented parliament," said Teneo Intelligence analyst Antonio Barroso in a note.

Analysts warned turnout could also be low in a repeat election as voters frustrated with the inability of politicians to form a government would likely stay away from the ballot box.

"I am really disappointed because we gave them out votes and in less than a year we will go to the polls again," 70-year-old retiree Lagrimas Cotrina told AFP as she walked by parliament.

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