Crunch time in Spain

Never in Spain’s political history has the formation of government been followed with such interest and anxiety.

Spaniards continue to monitor statements from political leaders for signs of a decisive moment. None has arrived.

But the results of the election on 20 December are already transforming Spain’s politics and institutions.

When the new parliament meets next week, the old certainties of left- and right-wing ideology will be gone. Four parties will each have 40 or more MPs, a situation that has created a wide range of possibilities – none of which are easy to achieve – when it comes to forming a government.

So who will govern Spain?

Hard maths

The right-wing People’s Party (PP), which has governed Spain since 2011, finished first in December’s election, but won only 123 seats in the 350-seat Chamber of Deputies.

This is the smallest tally for a first-placed party in Spain’s democratic history. And it has not been enough to rally support around the outgoing Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy (pictured).

Spain graphicThe parliamentary arithmetic is so difficult that any formal coalition seems unlikely. The formation of a government based on similar principles and proposals is more probable.

Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Socialists (PSOE), has been deep in talks with Podemos, the left-wing, anti-austerity party that grew out of the Indignados protests of 2011.

The two parties would need support of other left-leaning groups – the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and Popular Unity (UP) – to secure the investiture of Sánchez (pictured) as prime minister.

Elections in May?

A government may be formed – but it may struggle to survive.

It is unclear whether the inter-party talks are focused only on winning control for the left and the premiership for Sánchez, or cover a broader range of policy issues (such as the labour market act reform, Catalonian independence, administrative and changes to the education system).

If the former is true, it would be difficult to envisage the left-wing venture lasting long.

There is still time for other formulas to emerge. But a left-wing government seems most likely. Even if such a government is formed, it is still possible that Spaniards will have to vote again in May. If it is not formed, new elections are a near-certainty.

Next week’s decisive moments

Some PSOE representatives are not keen on the mooted left-wing pact.

The parliamentary debate on the investiture of the Prime Minister will begin on Thursday 28 January, but PSOE’s Federal Committee meets two days later.

This committee will analyse Sánchez’s plans and focus in particular on a key area of difference between PSOE and Podemos – their views on Catalonian independence.

For many Spaniards, the economy will be the decisive factor. The economy has begin to stabilise, but perhaps without the results being felt by ordinary people. Business, meanwhile, will want a government that keeps things steady and builds a sustainable economy.

The outlook is bright – the International Monetary Fund predicts that Spain will have a growth rate higher than the European average in 2016.

A stable government – hard as it may be to form – could help ensure the Spain remains on a positive track.

Words  Marisa Toro – Senior Advisor, Yolanda Vega – Director Public Affairs Practice (Burson-Marsteller Madrid), with David O’Leary
Images  CC/Flickr Elenir; CC/Flickr European People’s Party; CC/Flickr FSA-PSOE

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