New government for Spain hinges on late deal by left rivals

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Pedro Sanchez, Pablo Iglesias

FILE – In this March 30, 2016 file photo, Spain’s Socialist Party leader Pedro Sanchez, left, shakes hands with the United Podemos (United We Can) party leader Pablo Iglesias for the media as they arrive to the Spanish Parliament before their talks in Madrid. Spain’s center-left Socialist party and the United We Can party are edging closer to a deal on forming a coalition government, Friday July 19, 2019, after Iglesias removed a key obstacle to an agreement by saying he will not insist on being part of a future Cabinet. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)

MADRID (AP) — The clock is ticking for Spain’s caretaker prime minister to win the backing of left-wing rivals that he needs to keep his Socialist party in power.

Pedro Sánchez addressed the lower house of the Spanish parliament Monday, ahead of the first of two chances he will have this week to earn an endorsement from lawmakers to form a government.

While Sánchez said “my hand is open” to join forces with the anti-austerity United We Can party, he and United We Can leader Pablo Iglesias both acknowledged they remained far from reaching a governing coalition deal and time was running out.

“We have seen that it is not easy for us to reach an agreement,” Sánchez told United We Can’s parliament members while Iglesias glumly slouched in his seat.

“It is up to us to keep working and see this through. And then we will have the opportunity to move forward with that which unites us, which are the promises of the left, a society of men and women living in harmony with nature,” Sanchez continued.

Given the overlap of the parties’ positions on issues like raising the minimum wage and spending more on education, the main stumbling block was how many and which government ministries the Socialists would give to United We Can politicians.

As the exchanges in parliament turned testy, Iglesias accused Sánchez of wanting United We Can as a coalition partner that lacked any real power or what he considered important posts in the Cabinet.

Iglesias concluded his final speech of the day by berating the Socialists for refusing to cede control of the defense, interior, justice and foreign affairs ministries, as well as important positions in the labor and environment ministries.

“I have to ask you to respect the 3.7 million people who voted for United We Can,” Iglesias said. “Do not ask us to be mere decoration for your government because we will not tolerate that.”

Sánchez countered by asking the party’s lawmakers to “think hard about voting against a Socialist government, if at the end we are deadlocked.”

Sánchez’s Socialists won 123 seats in a April 28 general election but need the support of United We Can’s 42 lawmakers and other smaller parties to stay in power.

After weeks of stalled negotiations between Sánchez and Iglesias, the latter accepted the Socialists’ condition that he couldn’t form part of a new Cabinet. That sparked a rushed series of talks and optimistic messages by the Socialists that a deal was close.

But with Sánchez’s first chance to win the backing of parliament set for Tuesday, uncertainty and distrust simmered between the two would-be partners.

Sánchez needs support from an absolute majority, or 176 of 350 lawmakers. If he fails on that first bid, there would be a second vote with a lower bar on Thursday. He would need just more “Yes” than “No” votes in that case.

If he fails on both attempts, a two-month countdown starts for a government to be formed before a new election would be triggered.

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Wilson contributed from Barcelona, Spain.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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