Spain’s 'Usual Suspects' line up again for fresh elections

A composite image showing Mariano Rajoy, Pedro Sanchez, Pablo Iglesias and Albert Rivera set against an ID parade
Image caption Spain's 'usual suspects', party leaders (from left to right) Mariano Rajoy, Pedro Sanchez, Pablo Iglesias and Albert Rivera

After last-ditch talks between Spain's king and party leaders failed to break the country's political deadlock, Spaniards are to go to the polls once more.

An election on 26 June will be confirmed when parliament is dissolved next Tuesday.

But it is far from clear that the same politicians who have failed to work together in the past four months will manage to do so in July.

Little is likely to change from December's general election result, according to opinion polls which also indicate that 80% of Spaniards want a coalition government, and not fresh elections.

More frustration could ensue in a country where unemployment remains over 20%.

The acting economy minister has admitted that Spain's economic recovery will falter this year, scaling back his prediction for GDP growth to 2.7% from 3%.

In the 20 December ballot, the conservative Popular Party (PP) of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy came first, but lost its majority on the back of austerity policies and corruption scandals to win 122 seats out of the 350 in Congress.

The Socialist party (PSOE) led by Pedro Sanchez was second but immediately ruled out a grand coalition deal with Mr Rajoy.

Podemos, a Left-wing anti-austerity party was third, but could not combine with PSOE to guarantee a majority, while centrist anti-corruption party Ciudadanos did not win enough seats to really help anyone.

It was somewhat puzzling then, when the only formal negotiation process to produce any kind of firm deal in the past four months was between the Socialists and Ciudadanos.

No one else backed the 200-point policy programme aimed at cleaning up Spain's sleazy politics and tackling some of the social problems caused by a double-dip recession between 2008 and 2013.

Instead there has been finger-pointing as political leaders prepare sheepishly to ask Spaniards for their vote once again.

As the leaders prepare to get back on the campaign trail, all opinion polls agree that the PP will win again, but fall short of a majority, again.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Other parties see Prime Minister Rajoy as an obstacle to any possible coalition

There is speculation that an improved showing by Ciudadanos could allow for a centre-right coalition, but the continued presence of Mr Rajoy as leader and his apparent unwillingness to purge corruption from PP ranks could make such a deal hard to strike.

The deadly rivalry between Podemos and the PSOE frustrated any hopes for an anti-austerity coalition in this parliament. Mr Sanchez will hope he and Ciudadanos are both rewarded for their attempt to negotiate a majority deal.

Podemos' plan is to beat the PSOE in June and lead an anti-PP coalition on its own more radical terms.

The nightmare scenario is that the same devilish parliamentary mathematics is produced by the repeat poll.

Will the politicians sweat out a deal through Spain's hot summer weeks, or will autumn roll around with no proper mandate for a government in place?

There is a danger that 2016 will be remembered as a lost year in Spanish politics, unless the country's political leaders find their sense of duty.

Who's to blame for Spain's stalemate?

Mariano Rajoy, 'The man on the hill'

Having won the election, the acting prime minister sprang a surprise when he turned down the king's nomination to face a confidence vote. Mr Rajoy has made next to no effort to negotiate with other party leaders, even being caught by radio pranksters admitting he had an "empty diary" in January.

All the other parties have said that Mr Rajoy is an obstacle to any forward-looking deal because he has overseen a spate of corruption scandals within the PP, but the veteran conservative refuses to budge and seems likely to lead his party into a general election for a fifth time.

Pedro Sanchez, 'The hustler'

The Socialist leader tried to railroad the politically antagonistic Ciudadanos and Podemos together in a "majority for change", but seemingly tied his own hands by reaching a deal with the centrists before negotiating with the larger left-wing force.

Similarly, he rejected a pure leftist alliance with Podemos as it would have required the backing of Basque and Catalan parties that seek independence from Spain. Mr Sanchez wants voters to recognise that he has tried harder than others to form a government, blaming Podemos for the impasse.

Pablo Iglesias, 'The outsider'

Podemos' leader, a pony-tailed politics lecturer and Machiavelli scholar, seemed to have decided early on that Podemos needed another election campaign to prolong the surge the anti-austerity party enjoyed in December.

Podemos told Pedro Sanchez that any leftist coalition had to support a referendum on independence in Catalonia, anathema to the Socialist leader.

Albert Rivera, 'The surprise statesman'

The fresh-faced Ciudadanos leader has played his small hand in terms of parliamentary seats rather well, leaping to prominence as a statesmanlike figure by signing the solemn but ultimately sterile agreement with Mr Sanchez.

Ciudadanos is perceived by the electorate as the party least to blame for deadlock ahead of June's elections and Mr Rivera is the highest-ranked leader.

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