The Spanish parliament is due to vote on Prime Minister Rajoy's reelection but he looks unlikey to garner the required absolute majority. Much will now depend on the Socialists, as Santiago Saez reports from Madrid.
In January, little over a month after Spain took its first vote, incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said that attending a confidence debate without enough support to win would be "a fraud." In May, he said he would never face such a debate to lose, as it would be "mocking the institutions."
The conservative leader kept on along those lines until August 18, when he announced he was ready for the debate. On Tuesday Rajoy will address the parliament, followed by the vote on Wednesday, but nobody expects him to get the 176 votes he needs to win. Not yet.
His People's Party has managed to get the support of Ciudadanos' 32 MPs and Coalición Canaria's single vote, but that's about it. Rajoy still needs six more in favor or 11 abstentions to be reelected. On Monday, he met Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialist PSOE party, in an attempt to make him reconsider, but to no avail. Sanchez hasn't moved from the position he has held since the election.
Pedro Sanchez's 85 MPs are expected to oppose a PP-led government. The support of the left-wing, anti-austerity Podemos and the nationalists is off the table at the moment, so Rajoy is pressing for a deal with the Socialists. In a press conference on Monday, he said he wasn't asking for support, just that PSOE "allows something as rational as a government for Spain."
However, Sanchez is remaining steadfast in his opposition. The Socialist leader says that Rajoy's government program doesn't rectify "the core elements of the laws he approved with an absolute majority," - a reference to the conservative education reform, the labor policy and a constitutional reform, although he said that even if Rajoy agreed to changes, he wouldn't support his reelection. Sanchez remained coy on whether his party would try to lead an alternative government if Rajoy is not reelected.
At the moment, the deadlock looks certain to remain. Antonio Maestre, political journalist and commentator, argues that, if all the parties are telling the truth, Spain will be called to the polls for the third time in a year. PSOE and the nationalists maintain that under no circumstances would they support Rajoy, and the conservative leader has repeatedly said that he wouldn't step down.
However, Maestre thinks that PSOE will move in one way or the other before an eventual third round of elections. "Sanchez will have to look for an alternative majority or reach an agreement with the conservatives in exchange of some measures, one of which could be the departure of Mariano Rajoy," he told DW.
Federico Santi, Europe Analyst at Eurasia Group, thinks that Sanchez is going to give a PSOE-led cabinet another shot.
"[Left-wing] Podemos is now more amenable to reach an agreement with PSOE, but that's not enough. It's extremely unlikely that they would get the support they need from the Catalan pro-independence parties or Ciudadanos," he told DW. Santi thinks that the Socialists will eventually abstain, but want to show they tried everything they could before doing that.
PSOE's internal discrepancies have not gone public, but they are apparent. Analyst Santi says that the conservative and progressive branches of the party are quarrelling and that the party's final choice will depend on the result of that clash. "The socialists are the pivotal player here, and they will have to make some difficult choices. It's a matter of showing that they have exhausted the alternatives, and it may take another election before they're ready to take that step."
On the upside, macroeconomic data in Spain continues to show a positive trend even without a government to lead the country. GDP expanded by 0.8 percent in the second quarter, beating estimates, and over the last 12 months the country's economy has grown by 3.2 percent. According to Santi, the economy is "almost on auto-pilot." However, he says the positive data doesn't mean the economy wouldn't be doing better with a government in place.
One of the main points of concern is over the national budget for 2017, which needs to be submitted to parliament by the end of September and approved by mid-October to comply with EU rules. The bill, which details the distribution of funds for next year, would have be postponed if it fails to meet the deadline. Spain would then work with the 2016 budget until a new government is elected.
"If the budget can't be approved and Spain keeps one that was drafted during the crisis, that would mean social services wouldn't get as much funding as they would in a good situation," said journalist Antonio Maestre.
Rajoy's expected defeat in Wednesday's vote (and a second round to be held on Friday) will open a new chapter in Spanish politics. Chess is over, and a sort of musical chairs game starts now. There are no winners, only losers. Who will take responsibility for an eventual third round of elections? PSOE starts in the worst position, but it still has a few aces left up its sleeve.