Pedro Sánchez fails in first attempt to form new Spain’s government

Spain’s Socialist party leader, Pedro Sánchez, has failed in his first attempt to form a new government after the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos party abstained in a parliamentary vote.

Sánchez, who has been acting prime minister since an inconclusive election in April, needed an absolute majority of at least 176 votes in his favour in the 350-seat house to be confirmed as PM. Instead he received 124 votes in favour and 170 against, and there were 52 abstentions.

The vote now goes to a second round on Thursday when Sánchez only needs a simple majority – ie more “yes” than “no” votes. In the meantime he needs to strike a deal with Podemos in order to secure its MPs’ votes.

At the weekend Pablo Iglesias agreed to step aside as Podemos leader after Sánchez accused him of being the main obstacle to forming a coalition. But any hope that Sánchez would respond by offering Podemos senior ministerial positions failed to materialise.

The party was apparently offered the new ministries of youth and housing, as well the vice-presidency for Irene Montero, the Podemos number two and Iglesias’s partner. However, the offer was rejected on the grounds that the posts, which Podemos dismissed as “decorative”, carry no executive power.

“We’re not here to be a Chinese vase,” said party spokeswoman Ione Belarra. “Negotiations are at a standstill but we are confident that the socialist party will reflect and change its position.”

During Monday’s investiture debate an angry Iglesias told Sánchez that the 3.7 million people who voted for his party deserved representation in government.

Montero, who is heavily pregnant, voted no by phone, suggesting that Podemos’s decision to abstain rather than outright oppose was taken at the last minute.

With the support of Podemos’s 42 MPs and a few others from small regional parties, Sánchez could get through on Thursday, but given the anger of these potential allies, that support looks uncertain.

Catalan separatist party ERC accused Sánchez of being “irresponsible” for not appearing to want to negotiate with anyone, while Aitor Esteban of the PNV Basque nationalist party said the Socialists had not even been in touch with them in the past few weeks. “They have taken for granted that our vote was going to be positive,” he said.

Sánchez said on Tuesday: “I invited them [Podemos] to be part of a coalition government, the first in our democracy’s history. I’m trying. I’ve offered to share the cabinet with a parliamentary force that is to the left of the socialist party and which doesn’t guarantee me an absolute majority. You can criticise me for my lack of success in these talks, but not for lack of trying.”

Carmen Calvo, the Socialist party’s vice-president, denied that the posts offered were decorative. “We understand that in negotiations there can’t be winners and losers, that you can agree on some things and not on others,” she said.

If Sánchez cannot secure the votes he needs, he has another two months to find a solution, failing which the Spanish will face another general election.

“What we are seeing in Spanish politics is effectively the natural tensions that occur as a political system transitions from an old way of operating (single-party governments) to what appears to be the new normal … (coalition governments),” Alfonso Velasco, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, told AFP. “Spain might need another election for politicians to accept the new reality.”