January 12, 2016 / 7:24 PM / in 3 years

Spanish parliament poised to pick Socialist as speaker

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish political parties are poised to name a Socialist lawmaker as parliamentary speaker on Wednesday, in the first pact between rival forces struggling to form a government after an election last month.

Then President of the regional Basque government and leader of the Basque Socialist Party (PSE) Patxi Lopez gestures during a news conference in Bilbao October 23, 2012. REUTERS/Vincent West

Spain was plunged into a political stalemate after the Dec. 20 ballot left no party able to govern alone. The centre-right People’s Party (PP) of now-acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy won the most votes but lost its majority as newer movements, including leftist Podemos, made big inroads.

Parliament is due to resume on Jan. 13, when lawmakers will take up their seats. That has forced parties to agree on some steps for the first time, including electing speakers to oversee parliamentary business.

Socialist member Patxi Lopez, who once headed the northern Basque Country region, will be the chosen speaker under a deal with centrist newcomer Ciudadanos, his party said.

Rajoy acknowledged on Tuesday that the Socialists, long the main opposition party, were likely to get the speaker position in Congress, the lower house of parliament.

The role is largely a symbolic one, involving mediating debates, but it also entails presiding over a committee that decides on the legislative agenda and which is set to carry more weight in a splintered government.

The PP will have three places on the parliamentary committee while the Socialists, Podemos and Ciudadanos will have two each, Rajoy said.

Neither Rajoy nor political rivals suggested the agreement over the parliamentary position would serve as a template for further alliances, however, and fraught negotiations between parties to form a government could continue for weeks.

In a nod to the Socialists and Ciudadanos, Rajoy renewed his call on Tuesday for like-minded parties to team up with the PP to promote Spanish unity in the face of a separatist drive in the Catalonia region.

“Spain needs a broad parliamentary agreement to confront urgent challenges,” Rajoy told a party gathering.

But Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez has repeatedly ruled out backing Rajoy or the PP, even though he would face obstacles to form a government with Podemos, which favors allowing Catalonia to hold a referendum on independence.

Reporting by Sarah White and Carlos Ruano; Editing by Catherine Evans

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