Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy met Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday, kicking off what promise to be tough and complex negotiations between a handful of senior politicians on forming a viable government.
The encounter was their first since inconclusive elections on Sunday, in which Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP) won most votes but fell way short of a parliamentary majority and the Socialists came second.
Ahead of the meeting the leader of fourth-placed newcomers Ciudadanos, seeking to cast his party in the role of kingmaker, called for a three-way pact.
Such an alliance would dispel political uncertainty, including the risk that Catalonia might declare independence from Spain, Albert Rivera said.
The PP and the Socialists lost significant ground on Sunday to Ciudadanos (Citizens) and a second upstart party, left-wing Podemos (We can).
Rajoy has the first chance to form a new government, but his options are limited.
Ciudadanos has said it would abstain in a parliamentary vote on a new PP administration.
That would still leave Rajoy’s party short of the support it needs to govern, and it appears virtually impossible for him to stay in power without the support of the Socialists, or at least their abstention too.
But several senior Socialist officials have already said the party should be in opposition and would reject any government led by Rajoy or the PP.
Rivera said Ciudadanos wanted three-way talks on reforms, excluding third-placed Podemos.
“We propose a pact between the PP and the PSOE so that nobody takes advantage of the weakness, uncertainty and instability to break up this country,” he told a news conference in Madrid.
Rajoy has also left Podemos out of potential talks due in part to the party’s position on Catalonia, which it says should be given the right to a referendum on independence, something the other parties vehemently oppose.
The Socialists, already haemorrhaging support to Podemos, will be mindful of what happened to Greece’s once powerful centre-left party, Pasok, which has seen its support plunge since it joined a coalition led by the centre-right New Democracy in 2012.