Spanish parties reject Rajoy's attempt at a grand coalition

AP News
Posted: Jun 27, 2016 11:39 AM
Spanish parties reject Rajoy's attempt at a grand coalition

MADRID (AP) — Mariano Rajoy, the leader of Spain's conservative Popular Party, tried to form a "grand coalition" Monday after his party won the country's unprecedented repeat election — but his offer was quickly rejected by both the center-left Socialists and the business-friendly Ciudadanos party.

The Popular Party won 137 seats in Sunday's vote but again fell short of capturing the majority in the 350-seat Parliament that it had won in a 2011 election.

Rajoy's party also won an election in December but no other major party was willing to help him form a government — a political scenario that re-emerged Monday and could leave Spain with a caretaker government for many more months.

Speaking after a party leadership meeting, Rajoy said voters had backed his party's strategy of seeking a coalition with the Socialists and Ciudadanos.

"I continue to offer my hand to form a government that guarantees stability," he said.

But Socialist party spokesman Antonio Hernando said his party would neither "support Rajoy's investiture nor abstain."

Albert River, the leader of Ciudadanos, a new party that came in fourth Sunday with 32 seats, reacted similarly, although he suggested that he might support a Popular Party government with another leader.

Rajoy, 61, has refused to discuss any possibility of stepping aside.

Spanish politics have been in an ungovernable deadlock since December. Part of the problem is that Spain, unlike other European nations, has never had a coalition government. Instead, the Popular Party and the Socialists have alternated in power for decades. That means the political art of forging a coalition government deal is new to all.

"With his big victory, Rajoy now certainly has a stronger hand than after the December election," Antonio Barroso, a London-based analyst with the Teneo Intelligence political risk consulting group, said Monday. "However, it is unlikely that other parties will rapidly give him their support."

In third place with 71 seats was the left-wing Unidos Podemos (United We Can) group, which brings together the communists, the Greens and the two-year-old Podemos party that grew out of a grassroots anti-austerity protest movement.

The alliance, headed by pony-tailed political science professor Pablo Iglesias, had been heavily tipped to overtake the Socialists and break the country's traditional two-party political system, but it did not.

Podemos' main goal has always been to oust the Popular Party and install a leftist government, so it's unlikely to lend Rajoy any support.

The German government, meanwhile, hoped the deadlock in Spain could be ended.

"We hope that the parliamentary election opens the door to the quick formation of a government and that Spain's good path, with reforms and growth and falling unemployment, can be continued," German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in Berlin.

The newly-elected deputies will take their seat July 19, after which King Felipe VI will consult party leaders and likely nominate one to try to form a government. Rajoy said he hoped the country would have a government by the beginning of August.

"The pressure on the mainstream parties to avoid a third round of elections will be immense," Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding wrote in an email.

Following the December election, Rajoy acknowledged he didn't have any support to form a government and renounced the opportunity to even try. The king then called on the second-placed Socialists to try, but they were also unable and the monarch eventually called for a repeat election.

In recent years, the Popular Party had championed its role in Spain's economic recovery following a severe crisis but it has been deeply criticized for the country's high unemployment, cuts in government spending and its involvement in corruption scandals.