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Pedro Sánchez receives royal approval to lead Spanish government

Spain’s King Felipe VI has formally nominated Pedro Sánchez, the caretaker Socialist prime minister, to form the country’s next government, paving the way for a momentous parliamentary struggle in the weeks ahead.

The designation of Mr Sánchez, who is seeking, with the radical left Podemos party, to form modern Spain’s first coalition government, came on Wednesday night after the King held two days of consultations with the leaders of 18 parties in Spain’s fractured parliament.

Mr Sánchez depicted the move as the natural outcome of last month’s general election, which gave the Socialists most seats in parliament but left them far short of an absolute majority.

“The citizens want the Socialist party to rule,” he said in a press conference just after the palace made its announcement. “There is no other possible parliamentary alternative.”

But he has still not assembled the numbers in parliament to install a new government and declined to specify whether the vote to do so would take place this month.

The Spanish constitution does not provide a clear deadline for such a vote to happen, although it does specify that if the prime ministerial candidate fails to win an absolute majority of the 350-member Chamber of Deputies, a second vote should take place after 48 hours, in which only a simple majority is necessary.

If no government is formed two months after the initial vote in parliament, another general election is automatically triggered.

Mr Sánchez said he would hold talks next week with Spain’s centre right People’s party, the main opposition force, as well as the pro-market Ciudadanos party, and spoke of his desire to build consensus.

But at present his political opponents are up in arms both about his proposed coalition with Podemos and the Socialists’ parallel negotiations with Catalan separatists to secure the parliamentary vote on a new government.

“It is woeful that to form a government they are selling bits of themselves to the populists and the separatists,” said Inés Arrimadas, Ciudadanos’ spokeswoman in parliament, who denounced the proposed “Frankenstein” government and called instead for an agreement between the Socialists, her party and the PP.

But Pablo Casado, the PP leader, ruled out any arrangement with the Socialists, arguing that, otherwise, the alternative to the government would be in the hands of the populists of the left and right.

Mr Sánchez needs to look for support beyond his Socialists and his prospective partners in Podemos, since the two parties account for only 155 members of the Chamber of Deputies between them, more than 20 seats short of a majority. 

He is seeking the backing of a clutch of mostly regionalist parties and, much more controversially, the abstention of the Catalan Republican Left, or ERC, a party whose leader, Oriol Junqueras, was sentenced to 13 years in prison for sedition and abuse of public funds in a politically charged case in October.

In recent weeks, the Socialists and the ERC have held three rounds of negotiations and, while people on both sides say the talks are progressing, the Catalan separatists caution that a deal is unlikely before next year.

The ERC is calling for the government to address the dispute in Catalonia, which flared up after court sentences in October for Mr Junqueras and eight other separatists, by committing to formal talks with the region’s pro-independence administration.

In a possible nod towards that demand, Mr Sánchez said that next week he would call the leaders of all of Spain’s regional administrations, including Quim Torra, the leader of the Catalan government, to whom he had recently refused to talk.

Mr Sánchez, who lost a vote on forming a government in June, had previously sought to avoid both forming a coalition with Podemos and on relying on the abstention of the ERC. But his choices were straitened after November’s election reduced the Socialists’ ranks in parliament.

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