With the start of the debate on the motion of no confidence presented by the Socialists, Friday might be the last day of the Rajoy era. This is the earnest hope not only of the PSOE, but also of Podemos, Izquierda Unida and their allies. But even those within Rajoy’s own PP seem to believe this will happen: On Wednesday, upon the prime minister’s arrival on the Chamber of Deputies floor for question time, the 137 deputies from the Popular Party stood up and gave him a lengthy round of applause. A show of support for sure, but one that sounded more like a reverent sendoff. During the tough debate that followed, the opposition often hinted that the current government was in its “last hours.”
Pablo Iglesias, in his forceful attack against Interior Minister Zoido for being unwilling to withdraw a medal awarded 40 years ago to the famous Franco-era torturer Billy el Niño, addressed the bench of the PSOE directly: “We hope that the next Socialist Minister of the Interior will withdraw this mark of honor.”
The situation is uncertain, but there are some positive signs for the Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez. The Basque nationalists have indicated that if the Catalan parties vote yes to the motion of no confidence, they will do the same. For its part, the PdCat (the party of former Catalan President Puigdemont) announced that it would vote the same way as Esquerra Republicana. And the Esquerra’s colorful deputy, Gabriel Rufián, said on the floor that “to kick the thieves and jailers out of the Moncloa Palace is not a choice, it is a duty.”
Even if no one ultimately prevails in this game of tug-of-war, that will be enough for Sánchez to win out. Politically, Rajoy is now a dead man walking. Iglesias has been very skillful in taking the initiative, and has promised that if Sánchez were to fail to take power, the next day Podemos would file the “instrumental motion” that Ciudadanos has also threatened, calling for naming a candidate for prime minister to head a temporary government that would organize snap elections immediately. The problem so far has been that Ciudadanos cannot do this themselves. It takes 35 signatures to file the motion and they have only 32 deputies; nor can the Socialists (as they are allowed to file only one motion per year). But if Podemos goes forward with it, Ciudadanos and the PSOE would not have any arguments for not supporting it, and the motion would pass.
This puts a lot of pressure on the Basque PNV, who believe new elections would be a ruse playing out to the advantage of a surging Ciudadanos. In order to reap the economic benefits from Rajoy’s budget (which they voted for 10 days ago) and to win more time, their best strategy is indeed to vote for a new government headed by Sánchez.
On the other hand, the Catalans appear to have been working to the benefit of the Socialists all along: the new Catalan President, Quim Torra, has pragmatically bowed to pressure from Madrid and has removed from his list of ministers the four names opposed by the central government, i.e. those in prison and in exile in Brussels. Besides, two of the four new names replacing them are now deputies for Esquerra, who will resign after the vote Friday. Thus, there are no more excuses left to prevent the swearing in of the new Catalan government (scheduled for next week), which will automatically result in Article 155 being no longer in force.
A Sánchez government would have to find a way to manage the Catalan question, but will be able to start from a clean slate. One of the hot-button issues for the Spanish ultranationalists from Ciudadanos has been to keep Article 155 in force. Without this hanging over him, Sánchez will have more freedom regarding Catalonia (although we must not underestimate the centralist pressure he will face from his own party).
The only real obstacle is that the PSOE can count on just 85 deputies to support their government. Iglesias promised his support for the motion of no confidence without waiting for the results of the consultation among members of his party finalized Thursday night. He is insisting that Sánchez should form a coalition government with Unidos Podemos to get to 156 seats (out of a total of 350). But it is unlikely at this point that the PSOE would agree to a red-purple government.
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