Spanish leader fails to form left-wing government on 1st try

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Spain's caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arrives at the Spanish Parliament in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020. Sanchez is not expected to clinch an absolute majority during a first round of voting on Sunday but the Socialists insist they have the votes needed to get the required simple majority in a second vote Tuesday to put Sanchez back in the Moncloa Palace. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID – Spain’s interim Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez failed Sunday on the first of two chances to win the endorsement of the Spanish Parliament to form a left-wing coalition government.

The Socialist leader will have a second opportunity on Tuesday, when the threshold for success is lower and he hopes to have the support needed to constitute a coalition government of his center-left Socialists and the anti-austerity United We Can party. It would be Spain’s first coalition government since the return of democracy following the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975.

As expected, Sánchez fell short Sunday, receiving only 166 votes, below the 176 votes needed to reach the required absolute majority.

Sánchez received backing from his 120 Socialist lawmakers and from the 35 United We Can lawmakers. The rest came from smaller left-wing and regional parties. The lawmakers of the three main right-wing parties and other smaller partied tallied 165 “No” votes. Eighteen lawmakers abstained and one did not cast a vote.

“Let us make this legislature a re-vindication of the best policies, of the best hopes,” Sánchez told the 350-seat lower house before the vote.

The bar lowers on Tuesday’s second attempt, only requiring a simple majority of more votes for than against. But Sánchez's hopes of success will still depend on abstentions from several smaller parties, including separatist parties from Catalonia and the Basque Country.

Support from the Catalan separatist ERC party has come at a heavy political price for Sánchez, who has agreed to open talks between the Spanish government and the Catalan regional government, which is led by fervent separatists, regarding the future of the restive northeastern region. Spain’s right-wing parties say he is putting the nation’s territorial integrity at risk, despite his promise to not allow a Catalan referendum on independence that would violate the Spanish Constitution.

In anticipation of the heavy opposition attacks he was to receive in Saturday’s parliamentary debate, Sánchez started his speech with the message: “Spain is not going to fracture, the Constitution will not be violated. The only thing that is going be broken here is the (right-wing) blockade to a progressive government democratically elected by Spaniards.”

Sánchez has been leading a caretaker government in Spain for almost a year. He became prime minister in 2018 after leading no-confidence vote to oust Mariano Rajoy's conservative government, which was beset by corruption scandals. Sánchez kept a minority government afloat until he failed to get a national budget passed early last year and called an early election.

The Socialists received the most support of any party in the April vote but Sánchez failed in July to strike a coalition deal with United We Can. Sánchez was forced to call a second election for November, but that barely changed the distribution of power in parliament, except for the growth of the far-right Vox party.

Sunday's vote was held after a marathon parliamentary debate that began Saturday and carried over into Sunday morning.


Wilson reported from Barcelona, Spain.