Acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and Spain’s other political leaders have not yet begun their summer vacation, but for all the difference they are making, they might as well be.
After two national elections in six months that yielded only hung parliaments, Monday marks the beginning of a key week to determine who will be the next prime minister. King Felipe VI will meet representatives from all the parties with a presence in Congress to see whether anyone stands a chance of forming either a minority or a coalition government.
But so far, the situation appears to be as much in gridlock as it was following the original election of December 20.
Rajoy has expressed frustration at the lack of progress in his budding negotiations with the reform party Ciudadanos
Rajoy, whose Popular Party (PP) won the most votes again on June 26 (137) but remains short of a majority, will probably not bid for reinstatement on August 2 and 5, as he originally wanted to.
All the PP leaders that Rajoy has talked to are urging him to decline any offers by the monarch to submit to an investiture vote, on the basis that he lacks enough support from other parties to ensure success.
This is the same strategy that Rajoy followed after the first election. Given his refusal to stand, the main opposition leader Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), made an alternative bid of his own, but was voted down in Congress.
If a similar situation unfolds this time round, Spain would be facing a record third election in November.
Despite the gravity of the situation, Spain’s four main party leaders – Rajoy, Sánchez, Pablo Iglesias of Podemos and Albert Rivera of Ciudadanos – have apparently taken advantage of the holiday weekend. There have been no public appearances these last three days, and even their Twitter accounts have gone silent.
Spokespeople for all four parties confirmed there have been no contacts of any kind among their leaders over the weekend. No proposals have been exchanged. Official sources at La Moncloa, the seat of government, said that Rajoy has been working in private to break the political impasse, but would not reveal what initiatives he is working on.
But Rajoy’s close aides are apparently recommending he should avoid a vote in Congress if his success is not guaranteed ahead of time, and saying that he should instead let the deadline for a third election approach.
In the meantime, Felipe VI will begin meeting with the smaller parties on Tuesday, and with the larger formations on Thursday.
In private, Rajoy has expressed frustration at the lack of progress in his budding negotiations with the reform party Ciudadanos, which earned 32 seats at the June election. Ciudadanos, which reached an agreement with the Socialists in April, has been calling on parties to yield in order to get a government up and running in Spain.
But Rajoy feels that the talks between both groups are not progressing, particularly as Rivera is asking him to first reach some common ground with the Socialists, a demand that seems unlikely to be met. Sánchez has clearly stated that he will not support any Rajoy administration, either actively or passively through an abstention at the run-off of the investiture vote.
Ana Pastor, the new speaker of Congress, will wait for Rajoy to tell her which Tuesday in August he wants to hold the investiture debate, once Felipe VI asks him – as he very likely will at their Thursday meeting– to try to form a government. Congressional sources said the most likely dates are August 9 and 16, to give the chamber enough time to get the 2017 budget passed if a government takes shape – or to hold new elections before Christmas.