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Spain risks new ballot with PM's veto on left-wing coalition

MADRID (AP) — Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez on Tuesday proposed policies including pension hikes and rent controls in a bid to win a new term as Spain's prime minister, but rejected a coalition with a far-left ally whose support he needs to prevent a new general election.

Spain has been politically deadlocked for more than four months after the Socialists emerged as the strongest party in an election but fell significantly short of a majority in the national parliament. Lawmakers have until Sept. 23 to endorse a new government or new elections will automatically be triggered.

Sánchez, the caretaker prime minister, mainly needs the support of the anti-austerity Podemos (We Can) to stay in office. But its leaders said that Sánchez's policy promises are not enough and he must include Podemos in his new cabinet.

Podemos General Secretary Pablo Iglesias on Tuesday responded coolly to Sánchez's package of 370 "socially progressive" measures, saying in a tweet that "politics cannot be based on trust but on guarantees." He added that a governing coalition "is the only guarantee to carry out policies that can change people's lives."

With both sides' positions deeply entrenched, the likelihood of another election on Nov. 10 seemed to increase. In his latest attempt to avoid that, Sánchez repeated that he is open to Podemos taking lower-level positions in government departments. But he ruled out a two-party coalition, arguing that "Spain needs a united and strong government" to face economic upheaval ahead and to stop Catalan separatism among other challenges.

He also said that both parties had showed deep divisions during an earlier round of negotiations that ultimately led to a failed confidence vote in July, and that as a result a coalition was "unfeasible." Instead, he proposed forging a parliamentary alliance resting on an "ambitious" governing program.

While the conditions aren't in place to bring in Podemos as governing partners, "that's not a reason to turn them into enemies," Sánchez said. "It's possible to be loyal allies as we've been in the past."

The unveiling of the Socialists' package of measures, which include some long-standing Podemos demands such as free public kindergartens or higher taxes for companies, smacked of pre-electoral campaigning.

Surrounded by some 700 guests, including members of his party and caretaker cabinet as well as civil society leaders, Sánchez also offered to appoint an office and a parliamentary commission to review the government's progress on the proposed policies.

Podemos said it will study the measures but that trust in the Socialists is a major problem. "We already have experience," Iglesias told Spanish public broadcaster TVE. "Promises, promises, promises, beautiful words in campaign that are not fulfilled afterward."

The Socialists were looking to set up a meeting later this week for negotiations with Podemos.

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