Spanish PM’s coalition dilemma

Spanish PM’s coalition dilemma

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. (Reuters)

More than a week after the general election in Spain, it remains unclear what the country’s political future will be following the victory of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). Having failed to obtain an absolute majority in Parliament, Sanchez will have to seek support from other parties to form a new government, although the proximity of the European elections on May 26 (in Spain these are held to coincide with those of many regional parliaments and city councils) may determine the possible alliances.

The two main options for the prime minister are completely opposite. If he decides to negotiate with the populist leftist party Podemos, he will be forced to increase public spending notably and raise taxes. In addition, he will also need to obtain the votes of other small groups with diverse nationalist agendas that are not favorable to the general interests of Spain. If, on the contrary, Sanchez tries to get the support of the liberal Citizens party — an alliance that would have a sufficient majority in Parliament to govern comfortably — he would have to toughen his discourse against Catalan secessionism and carry out important economic reforms that could take away support from the unions and the working class.

These very different positions would also be reflected in Spanish foreign policy, which could seriously affect the Middle East, depending on who ends up supporting Sanchez. The Citizens party defends maintaining the traditional Spanish position toward the region, seeking to increase commercial and political relations in order to guarantee mutual prosperity and stability. However, its leader does not want to support Sanchez as he has not been firm against the Catalan secessionists, despite the fact they obtained less than 40 percent of the votes in Catalonia in last month's general election.

If Sanchez seeks the support of Podemos, he will probably have to assume some change in the traditional Spanish position on the Middle East.

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri

For its part, Podemos is very close to the positions defended by Russia or Iran in scenarios such as Syria, Iraq or the restoration of the legitimate government in Yemen. It is driven by a supposed anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism that serves as an excuse for its leaders to always support the interests of Moscow and Tehran. If Sanchez seeks the support of Podemos to govern in Spain, he will probably have to assume some change in the traditional Spanish position on the region. This would entail putting at risk the nation’s deep and beneficial relations with friendly countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE.

However, it is important to remember that, during the 10 months of the government of Sanchez before the election, he withstood the pressure from Podemos and did not modify Spanish foreign policy in the Middle East. Instead, he maintained all the agreements signed by the previous conservative government and protected relations with the friendly countries. In addition, in the open political scenario after the April 28 general election, the populists of Podemos have lost nearly half of their representatives in Parliament, so their capacity to influence the government has diminished considerably.

In any case, it seems clear that, until the European, regional and local elections are held on May 26, Prime Minister Sanchez will choose to wait and observe. Hopefully for good.

  • Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri is a political analyst and international relations scholar. Twitter: @DrHamsheri
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