Crisis-hit Socialists prepare for leadership showdown


Spain’s crisis-hit Socialists geared up for a key meeting on Saturday that could help end the country’s prolonged political deadlock and decide the fate of embattled party leader Pedro Sanchez.

The roughly 300 members of the party’s federal committee — its de-facto parliament — have been summoned to the Socialist headquarters in Madrid for a showdown between allies of Sanchez and opponents who want him out.

The outcome could see the party lift its veto on a new government led by acting conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a move that would be key in unblocking Spain’s nine-month political paralysis.

Since December 2015, the country has been without a fully-functioning executive as rivals fail to agree on a government following two elections in which none of the main parties won an absolute majority.

Even Rajoy, whose Popular Party won both elections though without enough seats to rule alone, was forced into negotiating a minority government which was voted down in parliament earlier this month.

“Tomorrow’s federal committee meeting faces a decisive debate,” Sanchez told reporters Friday evening, his face sombre as he made his first public appearance since senior party members tried to oust him on Wednesday.

The Socialist Party (PSOE) has for months been wracked by internal dissent, with Sanchez’s opponents unhappy with his leadership during Spain’s protracted political stalemate and with the grouping’s dismal results at both general elections and weekend regional polls.

Internal tensions boiled over into open warfare after 17 members of the party’s 35-strong executive quit together on Wednesday in a bid to force Sanchez out.

– Hints at resignation –

His detractors want the PSOE to use the 85 parliamentary seats it won in June polls to help unblock the national deadlock and allow a rightwing government led by Rajoy through by abstaining in a vote of confidence, rather than voting against as it did earlier this month.

The PSOE’s place is “in the opposition,” said Socialist lawmaker Eduardo Madina who opposes Sanchez.

But Sanchez is resolutely against letting Rajoy rule for another term, pointing to repeated corruption scandals hitting the PP and inequalities sparked by years of crisis-triggered austerity.

“Spain doesn’t deserve another four years of Mariano Rajoy at the head of the Spanish government — four more years with a prime minister who has systematically lied to Spanish society,” he said Friday.

This fundamental divergence in views is what will be at stake in Saturday’s meeting.

Sanchez hinted he would step down if a majority of those at the federal committee came out against his vision of what direction the party should take — in other words if they favoured abstaining.

“Obviously I could not put into practice a decision that I don’t agree with,” he said.

If his critics get their way and he quits, an interim leadership will be appointed which would likely direct the Socialists to abstain if Rajoy decided to go for another vote of confidence, thus unblocking the situation and avoiding a third round of elections.

If Sanchez wins, though, he will press ahead with his plans to appeal directly to grassroots members by calling primary elections on October 23 to elect a new leadership, and the future would be a lot more uncertain.

Spain’s parliament has until October 31 to produce a government or new elections will be called in December — the third in a year.

© 2016 AFP

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