September 30, 2016 - 4:18 AM
MADRID - A growing leadership battle within Spain's main opposition Socialist party could tear the 137-year-old organization apart and hurl the country toward an unprecedented third election in a year.
Party heavyweights aired their differences across the media Friday, indicating a crucial weekend federal committee may be unable to resolve the schism between those for and against leader Pedro Sanchez.
The split was triggered by a party executive board revolt against Sanchez on Wednesday. The burning issue is whether the party should help end Spain's nine-month political impasse by allowing acting conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to form a government.
Sanchez insists the party agreed to block Rajoy. If he prevails, Spain is unlikely to be able to form a government before an Oct. 31 deadline and fresh elections will be called.
If his opponents win, Sanchez could be removed and Socialist lawmakers instructed to abstain and let Rajoy and his Popular Party through.
Rajoy has headed a caretaker government following inconclusive elections in December and June. His party won the most seats in both elections and now lacks just a handful of votes or abstentions in Parliament to form a government.
Wednesday's rebellion came after party icon and former Socialist Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez revealed that Sanchez had told him they would abstain in the Rajoy vote. But the Socialists went on to block Rajoy twice. Opposition to Sanchez has also soared because of the party's worst-ever results in the two elections.
Many believe that whatever happens, Rajoy will be the only winner.
"The Spanish left is broken; there is no alternative to a Popular Party-led cabinet," said Antonio Barroso of the Teneo Intelligence political risk consulting group in a note. "If Rajoy is not appointed PM before 31 October, new elections will only strengthen his party further and make his re-election more likely."
Sanchez called the meeting of the near 300-member committee to propose a leadership election Oct. 23. His detractors say he no longer has authority and that a caretaker administrator should be appointed.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016