September 28, 2016 / 1:13 PM / 4 years ago

Senior Spanish Socialists quit en masse in move to end political deadlock

Spain's Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez gestures during a news conference at the party headquarters in Madrid, Spain, September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Andrea Comas

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain’s Socialist party descended into internal warfare on Wednesday as senior members resigned en masse in a bid to unseat their leader and break a political impasse that has left the nation without a new government for nine months.

A stand-off between the Socialists, headed by Pedro Sanchez, and the centre-right People’s Party (PP) - which won the most votes but fell short of a majority in two inconclusive national elections - has frustrated attempts to form a government.

But dissent has been growing within the Socialists over whether the party should keep blocking acting PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s bid for a second term.

On Wednesday, 17 members of the Socialists’ 38-strong executive committee resigned together in a manoeuvre to force Sanchez out and help to ease in a new administration.

After the resignation of two members some months ago and the death of another, the committee now has fewer than half its original members, which should force its dissolution and usher in an interim management. The party conference would then have to choose a new leader in a few weeks.

Most analysts believe a new leader would pave the way for the Socialists to tolerate a new Rajoy government, thus ending a stalemate prevailing since the inconclusive election in December last year.

But other committee members said party rules did not allow for such a scenario to transpire and that Sanchez remained their leader. “This is extremely serious... There is no room for any shortcut or violation of the rules of the party,” deputy party chief Cesar Luena said as he dismissed the anti-Sanchez plot.

“Now, the party’s members and sympathisers will have to speak and vote.”

Editing by Catherine Evans and Mark Heinrich

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