BY CIARAN GILES
The Associated Press
MADRID — Spain’s Socialist party signed an agreement Wednesday with centrist newcomer party Ciudadanos to support the Socialists’ bid to form a government next week, but they are still far short of a majority.
Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez can now count on his party’s 90 seats and 40 from Ciudadanos in the 350-seat lower house of Parliament. But the conservative Popular Party, which has 123 seats, has said it will vote against him, while far-left newcomer Podemos, which has 69, said it would vote against Sánchez if he did a deal with Ciudadanos, which it considers to be too far to the right.
The Socialists had been due to continue talks with Podemos on Wednesday but Podemos called them off at the last moment, blaming the pact. It said it would continue to seek a deal with the Socialists and other leftist groups, but not with the Popular Party or Ciudadanos.
The Socialists and Ciudadanos signed the pact after agreeing on a set of reforms to be made by the next government. Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera said the two parties would work toward persuading others to come on board.
The Socialists’ main difference with Podemos is the latter’s insistence that the northeastern region of Catalonia should be allowed to hold a referendum on secession.
Sánchez will present his government plans for debate in Parliament Tuesday, and the next day face a vote of confidence, which he must win with a majority.
If he fails, a second vote takes place two days later where he only needs more votes in favor than against — allowing some parties to abstain.
If he wins neither vote, Parliament must choose a government in two months or face fresh elections.
The ruling Popular Party came first in the Dec. 20 election but its leader, acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, refused to try to form a government, saying he lacked sufficient support.
The elections, with the emergence of Podemos and Ciudadanos, have led to Spain’s most fragmented Parliament in decades and shattered the dominance of the Popular Party and the Socialists.