Spain’s king picks socialist chief to try to form government

Spain's King Felipe (left) and Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pose before their meeting at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, Spain, on Feb 2, 2016.
Spain's King Felipe (left) and Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pose before their meeting at Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, Spain, on Feb 2, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID (REUTERS/AFP) - Spain’s King Felipe has nominated socialist chief Pedro Sanchez to lead talks with political parties to form a government and seek the confidence of parliament, the speaker of the lower house Patxi Lopez announced on Tuesday (Feb 2).

Speaking after a brief meeting with the king, Lopez said Sanchez would need at least three weeks, possibly a month, before a first parliamentary confidence vote can be organised. 

Under Spain’s constitution, a two-month deadline for the formation of a government comes into effect once this first vote takes place. If that deadline expires, a new national election is called.

The country has been mired in uncertainty since December elections saw the incumbent conservative Popular Party (PP) win but without an absolute majority, leaving acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy struggling to form a government as other parties refuse to support him.

Rajoy would like to form a "grand coalition" consisting of his party, its rival Socialists (PSOE) which came second in the elections, and upstart centrist grouping Ciudadanos, which arrived in fourth place.

But PSOE chief Pedro Sanchez has repeatedly rejected the idea.

After meeting the king earlier Tuesday, Sanchez said he had told the monarch he was willing to attempt what Rajoy has so far failed to do.

"I told the king that the Socialist party is willing... to try and form a government and drag Spanish democracy and institutions out of this deadlock," he told reporters in Madrid.

Sanchez stressed he was willing to speak to all political parties on the left and on the right, to create a "progressive" government.

Spain's upstart anti-austerity party Podemos, which came third in the elections on December 20, has proposed forming a government with the Socialists.

But while Sanchez has welcomed the proposal, he has said the two parties need to first reach an agreement on a programme.

The formation of such a left-wing coalition government has been complicated by Podemos' backing for an independence referendum in the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia, which Sanchez fiercely opposes.