Singapore Markets close in 7 hrs 18 mins

Spain's Sanchez seeks backing to remain in power

Adrien VICENTE
1 / 4
Spain's Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez has two chances to get his programme through parliament

Spain's outgoing socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez on Monday outlined a government programme with a boost in social spending in the hope of persuading the far-left to help him back into power amid tough negotiations.

Sanchez, currently caretaker premier after an inconclusive general election in April, has two chances this week to get his programme approved by parliament and to continue as prime minister.

In a first parliamentary vote due on Tuesday, Sanchez will need at least 176 votes -- an absolute majority -- to be able to return to power. He is not expected to get them.

In a second vote on Thursday, a simple majority will be enough.

The consensus is that his Socialist party, which has 123 parliamentary seats, has a fighting chance with the support of the 42 lawmakers from the far-left Podemos, with which he hopes to form a coalition government -- which would be a first for post-dictatorship Spain.

In a speech to parliament on Monday, Sanchez pledged to increase again the minimum wage, which stands at 1,050 euros ($1,180) a month since January, adjust pensions to inflation, and boost investment in education to five percent of GDP, among other measures.

But he also fixed strict financial targets, promising to reduce Spain's public debt to 95.8 percent of gross domestic product this year, down slightly from previous forecasts.

The budget deficit, meanwhile, he pledged to lower to two percent of GDP -- well within the EU's three percent ceiling.

That could signal to financial markets that any coalition with Podemos could follow a strict budget policy.

"Reducing the public deficit isn't enough... it's also necessary to take up public investment again and strengthen social investment," Sanchez told lawmakers.

- Fragmented political landscape -

Spain's increasingly fragmented political landscape makes it hard for a single party to win a majority in parliament.

Sanchez has to negotiate his way into power because although his party was victorious in the election, the 123 seats it won in the 350-seat parliament fell well short of a ruling majority.

He is currently wooing Podemos and several small regional parties, to the horror of right-wing opposition parties like the liberal Ciudadanos party, whose leader Albert Rivera accused Sanchez of "putting together a Frankenstein government."

"You can't reach deals with those radicals," added Pablo Casado, head of the conservative Popular Party (PP).

After nearly three months of talks, though, the socialists have still not reached a deal with Podemos for what would be the first coalition government since Spain swung back to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Angry, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias accused the socialists of refusing to give his party positions that carry any kind of weight and wanting them to be "a mere decor" in the government.

"We're a modest political force, we're a young political force, but we're not going to be trampled on or humiliated by anyone," he told Sanchez in parliament.

- Catalonia -

Ciudadanos, the PP and far-right Vox are all lined up against Sanchez. They accuse him of wanting to cut a deal with Catalan separatists in order to secure their backing.

It was Catalan separatist parties that helped the Socialists into power in June 2018 when they brought down the last PP government with a no-confidence vote.

But they also forced the early elections in April when they refused to back the Socialists' budget.

This time around Gabriel Rufian, leader of the Republican Left of Catalonia, has said his party will not stand in Sanchez's way.

If Sanchez cannot secure the votes he needs this week, he has another two months to find a solution, failing which the Spanish will face another general election.