The Spanish Socialist Party is under heavy pressure in the aftermath of the general elections. The extremist Podemos movement nearly ousted it as the leader of left-wing sentiment. But neither can it support the ruling Partido Popular right away, nor risk blocking the forming of a new government and provoking another round of elections. It would pay a high price if it embarked on such a course of action.
It could also take the dangerous gamble of creating a highly unstable coalition with Podemos. A scenario that would amount to fuelling separatist pressures and a policy platform which would wreak havoc on the economy. Such a volatile melting pot would soon explode, leading to the disintegration of the Socialist Party. So all that is needed is a face-saving agreement with its Partido Popular counterparts, implying some mutual sacrifices. This device also needs to defuse the Podemos threat. Otherwise, a move in the grand coalition direction would amount to complete suicide.
As a first step, one could imagine that the Socialists might block all attempts by the current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to secure enough support for re-election as the head of a new right-wing cabinet. That move would prevent its disenchanted voters seeking other options. As a second step, the Socialist leader would try to cement an alternative majority in Parliament, showing publicly that Podemos’ extravagant and preposterous red lines shatter any possibility of a plausible left-wing coalition. In this way, he could sell the idea that others are to blame for failing to secure a government.
And as a third step, a consensus candidate would win support from both the Partido Popular and the Socialists. The task could fall on an independent and widely respected centre-right individual commanding enough broad support. In this way, the Socialists could boast that a neutral Prime Minister would take the reins even if carefully monitored by both main parties in a grand coalition.
Should the economy grow at the current steady pace, a couple of years of robust job creation and enhanced recovery might sharply cut the grass from under the extremists’ feet. A sensible social agenda would show that government duly takes care of those less well-off, who are facing more severe challenges. Moves in industrial relations would show that government tackles the situation of low-paid and unduly precarious jobs, bringing hope and active support for the long-term unemployed. It would not be a heavy burden, but would wipe away the mantra that the main parties only rescue banks in trouble.
A broad agreement is the only way of securing enough time to demonstrate that there are sharp contradictions amongst the extremists. Should they become the leading left-wing party, they are bound to enter government in the future and plunge Spain into utter dismay. Both the Partido Popular and the Socialists should not forget that their real enemy lurks outside their bilateral quarrels.