Voting is underway for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), the main opposition party in the country, to choose a new leader as the conservatives closely watch the results which could affect a minority coalition government.
PSOE members were casting their votes in the leadership primary at 2,900 polling stations on Sunday. Some 190,000 card-carrying members were eligible to vote and the results were expected to come after 9:00 pm (1900 GMT).
The race for the chairmanship of the party is a very tight one between Susana Diaz, the president of the southern region of Andalusia, and former party leader Pedro Sanchez.
Diaz has a better chance of winning the vote as she is seen as an establishment favorite and more inclined to reach deals with the Rajoy’s minority government at a turbulent economic and political time for Spain. Sanchez, who was ousted in a rancorous internal rebellion in October, however, is known for his fraught relationship with the conservatives and many see his potential win in the primary as the start of a fresh political crisis in Spain.
“We have an opportunity to unite. From tomorrow we have to calm down and engage in national politics, forget petty squabbles, and convince people to vote for us,” said a party member who voted for Diaz in Madrid, adding, “We’ve lost our way for some time.”
Sanchez resigned last year after Rajoy’s minority Popular Party (PP) government finally was sworn in for a second term, relying on the PSOE. The former economics professor staunchly refused to engage in a partnership with the PP, triggering concerns that Spain should go to a third inconclusive national elections. Sanchez has not ruled out submitting a no-confidence motion in Rajoy if he wins the PSOE leadership race. The 45-year-old insists that the Socialists must distance themselves from the right and move further to the left to win back voters attracted to new formations in the far-left like Podemos.
Diaz, 42, believes in “constructive opposition” to the PP. The career politician was one of the leaders of the rebellion against Sanchez although latest reports suggest that she has only 7,000 more party member signatures in favor of his candidacy compared to Sanchez.
Spain’s Socialists recorded their worst ever results in the parliamentary election last year when they managed to secure only 85 of the 350 seats in the chamber. The party, one of the dominant political forces in Spain since the fall of longtime dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, has lost a great deal of its public support to Podemos.