PM Mariano Rajoy met the leaders of Podemos, Pablos Iglesias, and Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera yesterday. | Ballesteros


Spain’s socialist party, PSOE, today ruled out forming a new government with any party that supports a referendum on independence in Catalonia, a stand that prolongs political uncertainty after this month’s inconclusive national election.
As the four main parties in Spain vie to form a government following the election that left no party with a parliamentary majority, Catalonia, the engine of the Spanish economy and home to an entrenched independence movement, has emerged as one of the main sticking points.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Partido Popular (PP), which won 123 seats - far short of the 176 minimum needed to govern alone - and PSOE, who came second, both reject any referendum in Catalonia, where separatists won a majority of seats in a regional election in September.

Leftist party Podemos, which has been cast as potential kingmaker and which says Spain should be recognised as a multinational state, has said it is committed to holding a referendum if it enters government. Its strong results in the election - it won 69 seats, only 21 fewer than PSOE - has led to the possibility of an alliance of leftist parties. But PSOE leader Pedro Sanchez said Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias would have to renounce his pledge to grant a referendum if both parties were to join forces. “We will not discuss questions about the territorial integrity of the country,” Sanchez said at a news conference.

Sanchez dashed hopes of a grand coalition of the mainstream left and right last week after he said he would reject any pact that led to a new government with Rajoy or a different leader of the PP. “We will not form a government at any cost.” Without the backing of PSOE, or at least their implicit support via abstentions, it would be impossible for the PP to form a government with a majority in parliament.

Podemos’ Iglesias, who had said last week he was open to an agreement with Sanchez, said today he doubted the resolve of PSOE to form an alternative government to the PP. “They are determined to not understand that the unity of Spain is defended by understanding its multi-nationality,” Iglesias said at a news conference after a meeting with Rajoy.

Apart from a recognition of a multinational Spain, Iglesias has said other conditions for joining a leftist coalition are more social policies, a new electoral law, and mechanisms to better control government. Iglesias said after meeting with Rajoy that his party will not agree to become part of a coalition led by Rajoy’s Partido Popular and would not indirectly support Rajoy by abstaining during a parliamentary leadership vote.

Rajoy then met with Albert Rivera of the business-friendly Ciudadanos party as part of his attempt to win support for the PP’s effort to govern as a minority party or in a coalition. Ciudadanos has said it would abstain in a leadership vote and has also said it would join a coalition of the Partido Popular and PSOE.

King Felipe VI will next month hold talks with the leaders of each party that won seats in parliament and nominate one for government. But the nominated party leader must then win the leadership vote of confidence (investiture) in parliament in order to take office. If there is still deadlock after two months, the monarch will call a new election, but last week the majority of Spaniards said that they do not want to re-run the election. Less than one third of Spaniards want a re-run and just seven per cent of those surveyed said that they would change their votes in a fresh election, while 87.1 per cent said they would vote the same way.