Spain's divided Socialists to vote in leadership battle

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Rent by internal divisions, members of Spain's Socialist Party are voting Saturday to decide if they will keep or oust leader Pedro Sanchez, who has been blocking acting conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy from building a minority government.

Despite nine months political gridlock in Spain, Sanchez insists he will continue blocking Rajoy. If he stays in his post after Saturday's party vote, Spain will be unable to form a new government by Oct. 31 and a new national election will be called. If his party opponents win, they might abstain from blocking Rajoy, ending Spain's political limbo.

In an attempt to force Sanchez to resign, 17 of the party's 38-member executive committee resigned Wednesday, demanding a chance of stance.

But supporters of Sanchez gathered Saturday outside Party headquarters in Madrid, chanting his name and "No means no!" in reference to the Socialists refusing to let the conservatives form a coalition government.

Spain has been led for decades by either the conservatives or the Socialists and has never had a coalition government. An inconclusive election last December saw the rise of other parties, and another national election in June did not solve the question of who should lead the country. Unlike lawmakers elsewhere in Europe, Spanish politicians are having a difficult time with the whole concept of a coalition government.

Rajoy has been leading a caretaker government. His conservative Popular Party won the most seats in both elections but needs the support or abstention of other parties to form a government.

The 137-year-old Socialist party is reeling in from losses in the Galician and Basque regional elections last month and its worst-ever results in the last two national elections.

Some say, regardless of what the Socialists decide, the only winner will be Rajoy.

"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. "If Rajoy is not appointed PM before 31 October, new elections will only strengthen his party further and make his re-election more likely."


Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.