Spain’s Socialists and Podemos make pact to form new government

Spain's Socialists and the radical leftwing Podemos have agreed in principle to form a coalition government, the leaders of the two parties said on Tuesday.

Spain's Socialists and Podemos make pact to form new government
Photo: AFP

Despite months of failed negotiations between the two parties in the wake of the general election in April, forcing Sanchez to call a repeat general election, the two leaders have defied expectations and made a deal within 48 hours of the vote.

The pair signed a deal on Tuesday shortly before 2.30pm after holding secret meetings on Monday night. It will see Pedro Sanchez as Prime Minister with Pablo Iglesias take the role of Deputy Prime Minister.

 “As I said on election night after hearing the results, what was a historical opportunity in April has become a historical necessity,” said the Unidas Podemos leader.

“I’m pleased to announce today, together with Pedro Sánchez, that we have reached a preliminary agreement to create a progressive coalition government that combines the experience of the PSOE with the courage of Unidas Podemos.”

Sanchez added that the deal would form a “progressive government made up of progressive forces that are going to work for progress. There is no room for hatred between Spaniards,” he said.

He said the deal was for the government to last for four years, “the entire term”.

The two leaders hugged in front of the cameras after signing the pact.

Photo: AFP

In the coming weeks, the two parties would thrash out all the details of both the structure and the programme of the government, Sanchez added.    

The pair will need the support of other factions in order to pass an investiture vote with at least 176 votes in the 350-seat parliament.

Although Sanchez's Socialists won Sunday's vote, the fourth in as many years, he emerged from the elections weakened. The repeat vote boosted support for the rightwing People's Party and propelled the far-right Vox into third place.

Both the Socialists and Podemos lost seats compared to April's election.    

Sanchez's party took 120, down from 123, while Podemos secured 35, down from 42, leaving the two factions 21 seats short for any investiture vote.

The coalition would need the support of Ciudadanos, which won just ten seats (down from 57) as well from smaller regional parties. 

But Ciudadanos was quick to criticise and seemed to immediately rule out backing a Socialist-Podemos alliance.

“Ciudadanos cannot support Sanchez and Podemos holding the reins of Spain's government,” a party statement said, saying it would be “detrimental to the interests of most Spaniards”.

And like others, it harked back to a September interview in which Sanchez justified his decision to call an election and refusal to work with Podemos    

In it he said he wouldn't sleep at night if he formed a coalition with a party that had so “little experience of politics”.

“Not so long ago, he said he couldn't sleep with the idea of Podemos and now they're going to live together,” the party said, in remarks which were echoed by PP leader Pablo Casado.

“It no longer worries him that Pablo Iglesias will be in his government but there are many Spaniards who will be worried by this deal that they've just announced,” Casado tweeted.

Following the announcement, the Ibex 35 index of most-traded Spanish shares went into the red, and soon after was trading about 0.80 percent lower, with banking stocks particularly affected on concerns the alliance could hike taxes on the sector.


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German Greens’ chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news

With Germany's Green party leading the polls ahead of September's general elections, the ecologists' would-be successor to Angela Merkel has become increasingly targeted by internet trolls and fake news in recent weeks.

German Greens' chancellor candidate Baerbock targeted by fake news
The Greens chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock on April 26th. Photo: DPA

From wild claims about CO2-emitting cats and dogs to George Soros photo collages, 40-year-old Annalena Baerbock has been the subject of a dizzying array of fake news, conspiracy theories and online attacks since she was announced as the Greens’ chancellor candidate in mid-April.

The latest polls have the Greens either ahead of or level with Merkel’s ruling conservatives, as the once fringe party further establishes itself as a leading electoral force in Europe’s biggest economy.

Baerbock herself also consistently polls higher than her conservative and centre-left rivals in the race to succeed Merkel, who will leave office after 16 years this autumn.

Yet her popularity has also brought about unwanted attention and a glut of fake news stories aimed at discrediting Baerbock as she bids to become Germany’s first Green chancellor.


False claims

Among the false stories circulating about Baerbock is the bizarre claim that she wants to ban household pets in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Another fake story firmly denied by the party claimed that she defied rules on mask-wearing and social-distancing by embracing colleagues upon her nomination earlier this month.

Baerbock has also been presented as a “model student” of Hungarian billionaire George Soros – a hate figure for the European far-right and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists – in a mocked-up social media graphic shared among others by a far-right MP.

More serious online attacks include a purported photo of Baerbock which in fact shows a similar-looking naked model.

The Greens’ campaign manager Michael Kellner said that the attempts to discredit Baerbock had “taken on a new dimension”, that “women are targeted more heavily by online attacks than men, and that is also true of our candidate”.

Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock earlier this month. Photo: DPA

Other false claims about the party include reports of a proposed ban on barbecues, as well as plans to disarm the police and enforce the teaching of the Quran in schools.

While such reports are patently absurd, they are potentially damaging to Baerbock and her party as they bid to spring a surprise victory in September.

“She has a very real chance, but the coming weeks are going to be very important because Baerbock’s public image is still taking shape,” Thorsten Faas, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University told AFP.

In a bid to fight back against the flood of false information, the party has launched a new “online fire service” to report fake news stories.

READ ALSO: Greens become ‘most popular political party’ in Germany

Russian disinformation

Yet stemming the tide is no easy job, with many of those who peddle disinformation now using private messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram rather than public platforms such as Facebook.

The pandemic and ongoing restrictions on public life will also make it harder for the campaign to push through their own narratives at public events.

Miro Dittrich of Germany’s Amadeu-Antonio anti-racism foundation claims that lockdown has “played a role” in the spread of fake news.

“People are isolated from their social environment and are spending a lot more time online,” he said.

Another factor is Russia, which has made Germany a primary target of its efforts to spread disinformation in Europe.

According to the European anti-disinformation platform EUvsDisinfo, Germany has been the target of 700 Russian disinformation cases since 2015, compared to 300 aimed at France and 170 at Italy.

As an outspoken critic of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, Baerbock may well become a target of such attacks during the election campaign.

By Mathieu FOULKES