Will Podemos yield? Spain’s Sanchez in race to avoid fresh elections

Spain's Pedro Sanchez has just nine days left to resolve a political crisis that could drag the country to its fourth elections in as many years. Everything hinges on him securing support from the far-left Podemos.

Will Podemos yield? Spain's Sanchez in race to avoid fresh elections
PM Pedro Sanchez (L), Deputy PM Carmen Calvo (C) and Foreign Minister Josep Borrell in parliament earlier this week. Photo: Pierre-Phillippe Marcou/AFP
He has until September 23 to be confirmed as premier — or Spain's deeply-fragmented parliament will be dissolved once again and a new general election held on November 10.
Sanchez's Socialists won the last elections in April but fell far short of a majority, leaving him dependent on the backing of Podemos as well as several smaller regional parties.
Without that, he cannot win the backing of parliament and formally begin a new term at Moncloa, the official residence of Spain's prime minister.
Back in July, Sanchez made two attempts to secure confirmation by the assembly but failed following a dispute with Podemos and its leader Pablo Iglesias that has yet to be resolved.
The Socialists had initially agreed to form a coalition, albeit reluctantly, with the radical leftwing party, offering it several government portfolios, but Podemos refused, saying the posts did not carry enough political clout.
Now Sanchez has taken the offer of a coalition off the table, offering Iglesias only talks on a joint policy programme in the hope of establishing a minority government with ad hoc parliamentary support from the party. And six weeks on, the situation remains deadlocked.
King hopes to break deadlock
Iglesias has insisted on his party entering government but faced with Sanchez's intransigence, he on Friday suggested forming a “temporary coalition government” that would be able to approve the state budget.
If Sanchez was unhappy with the result, Podemos could then withdraw, while retaining his majority in the chamber, he said.
But government spokeswoman Isabel Celaa dismissed the idea as “absurd” saying the country needs a “solid government” and not one “subject to any test period”.
“It is highly unlikely they will reach an agreement,” said Ernesto Pascual, professor of political science at the Open University of Catalonia.
In a bid to break the deadlock, King Felipe VI will on Monday begin two days of meetings with party leaders, meeting Iglesias on Tuesday afternoon and Sanchez later that evening.
As head of state, only he can give a formal mandate to Sanchez to once again present his candidacy as head of government to parliament, should an agreement be found.
'Entrenched positions'
“While there remains ample scope for an agreement, new elections are now likely, given both parties' entrenched positions,” wrote Eurasia Group senior analyst Federico Santi in a note.
“Crucially, the leadership of neither party considers an electoral repetition as particularly risky or costly as of now.”
Should fresh elections be held, surveys suggest the Socialists would win more seats but still fall short of a majority. And Podemos would have less to lose from a new election than opting to back a Socialist government.
Were they to back such a government without taking an active part in it, the leadership fears the party “would be sidelined over time, losing more ground to the Socialists in the long-term struggle between the two parties for
leadership of the Spanish left,” Santi wrote.
 And if a new election were held, the outcome would most likely be similar to the current situation, with Sanchez still needing the support of Podemos and smaller regional parties, he added.
Spain has been gripped by political instability since the December 2015 elections ended the traditional two-party system with the emergence of two Podemos and the business-friendly Ciudadanos, leaving the parliament deeply-fragmented.
And the rise of far-right upstart Vox, which entered parliament following April's election, has further complicated the political picture.

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Spain’s basic income scheme hits backlog dead-end

Three months after Spain rushed to launch a minimum basic income scheme to fight a spike in poverty due to the coronavirus pandemic, the programme is at a dead-end because of an avalanche of applications.

Spain's basic income scheme hits backlog dead-end
Red Cross volunteers bring food packages to elderly and low income people. Photo: Cesar Manso/AFP
The measure was a pledge made by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftwing coalition government, which took office in January, bringing together his Socialist party with far-left Podemos as the junior partner.
The scheme — approved in late May — aims to guarantee an income of 462 euros ($546) per month for an adult living alone, while for families, there would be an additional 139 euros per person, whether adult or child, up to a monthly maximum of 1,015 euros per home. It is expected to cost state coffers three billion euros ($3.5 billion) a year.
The government decided to bring forward the launch of the programme because of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has hit Spain hard and devastated its economy, causing queues at food banks to swell.
Of the 750,000 applications which were filed since June 15 when the government started accepting requests, 143,000 — or 19 percent — have been analysed and 80,000 were approved, according to a social security statement issued on August 20.
'Months of waiting'
But Spain main civil servant's union, CSIF, paints a darker picture. “Nearly 99 percent of requests have not been processed,” a union spokesman, Jose Manuel Molina, told AFP.
The social security ministry has only really analysed 6,000 applications while 74,000 households that already receive financial aid were awarded the basic income automatically, he added.
For hundreds of thousands of other households, the wait is stressful. Marta Sanchez, a 42-year-old mother of two from the southern city of Seville, said she applied for the scheme on June 26 but has heard nothing since.
“That is two months of waiting already, when in theory this was a measure that was taken so no one ends up in the streets,” she added.
Sanchez lost her call centre job during Spain's virus lockdown while her husband lost his job as a driver. The couple has had to turn to the Red Cross for the first time for food.
“Thank God my mother and sister pay our water and electricity bills,” she said, adding their landlord, a relative, has turned a blind eye to the unpaid rent.
'Rushed everything'
A spokeswoman for the ministry acknowledged that the rhythm “was perhaps a bit slower than expected” but she said the government was working to “automate many procedures” so processing times should become faster from now on.
“The launch of a benefit is always difficult … and this situation is not an exception,” she added.
But Molina said this was a new situation, that was made worse by years of budget cuts to the public service which has lost 25 percent of its staff over the past decade.
“The problem is that they rushed everything, did it without training and a huge lack of staff,” he added.
The social security branch charged with the basic income scheme has only 1,500 civil servants, who also process most pension applications, Molina said.
These officials are facing an “avalanche” of requests, which already match the number of pension requests received in an entire year, he added.
About 500 temporary workers have been recruited as reinforcements but their assistance is limited because they do not have the status of civil servant, so they cannot officially approve requests for financial aid.
Demand is expected to increase. The government has said the measure was expected to benefit some 850,000 homes, affecting a total of 2.3 million people — 30 percent of whom were minors.
When the scheme was launched the government said all it would take is a simple online form, but this is a problem for many low-income families without computers and internet access, especially since the waiting time for an in-person meeting to apply is about two months, according to the CSIF union