Spain’s Socialist leader said on Monday his party would not back acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s re-election and end an eight-month political impasse after meeting him for the final time before a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday.
The Socialists’ head Pedro Sanchez holds the key to unlocking the deadlock as Rajoy is just shy of the majority he needs to form a government and has run out of allies. The party’s refusal to endorse their longtime rival in the vote heightens the chances of a third election in a year.
Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party is six seats short of the absolute majority of 176 seats it needs in the vote, even with the support of liberal party Ciudadanos, which was agreed on Sunday, and one extra seat from a minor Canary Islands party.
The Socialists’ abstention would be enough to enable a PP-led minority government under Rajoy, who won the most votes in elections in December and June but both times missed out on a majority.
Sanchez says, however, that Rajoy should instead win the support of several small regional parties which would tip him into majority territory.
“It was an unnecessary meeting,” Sanchez told reporters on Monday. “It is Mr Rajoy’s responsibility to reach the 176 votes, exclusively Mr Rajoy’s and not the Socialists’.”
If Rajoy loses Wednesday’s vote, a second vote will take place on Friday where a simple majority – in which he would need only to win more votes in favour than against – would suffice to allow him to form a government.
A loss in the second vote, also likely without the support of the Socialists, would trigger a two-month window to form a government at the end of which another election would be called, possibly on Christmas Day.
Pressure has mounted on Sanchez to cave in to both the PP and Ciudadanos’ demands and public opinion. Polls show most Spaniards would prefer the Socialists to enable a government led by Rajoy than face new elections.
Spain’s best-selling newspaper El Pais said in an editorial on Monday that the Socialists, who it has traditionally supported, should abandon their “absurd obstinacy” in opposing the PP, blaming it on their “weakness and lack of perspective”.
“The agreement signed yesterday by the PP and Ciudadanos should be sufficient to form a government, since that is its objective and that is what Spain needs now,” it said.
Rajoy, however, is not yet ready to give up on winning over Spain’s second-biggest party. He said after his half-hour meeting with Sanchez that he would continue to try to negotiate with them even if he failed in both investiture votes.
“To unblock does not mean to support, (the Socialists) simply would be allowing something as reasonable as Spain having a government,” he told reporters.