With coalition deal close, Spain's Sanchez seeks parliament's backing as PM

By Belén Carreño and Ingrid Melander

By Belén Carreño and Ingrid Melander

MADRID, July 22 (Reuters) - Spain's acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez laid out his main priorities for government to parliament on Monday, as lawmakers in his party and its likely coalition ally said the time had come to confirm him in the job.

Almost three months after an inconclusive national election left Sanchez's Socialists as the biggest party but short of a majority, he kicked off a week of debates and voting that will determine whether he can secure the legislature's backing to form an administration.

"This is what I will be doing in the coming days: request your confidence, appeal to your responsibility and generosity ... so that Spain has a government," Sanchez told deputies.

Employment, gender equality and fighting climate change would be his main priorities, he said.

Spain has been in political limbo since the April 28 ballot, and until a few days ago a repeat election had seemed increasingly likely as negotiations between the Socialists and far-left Podemos foundered.

But late concessions on both sides have left party insiders confident that a deal to form what would be the first coalition government in Spain's recent history will be struck this week.

"There are no more excuses not to strike a deal. Voters would not understand it," said one Podemos lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity given that coalition talks were under way.

That echoed what Socialist Party deputy secretary general Adriana Lastra told reporters at the weekend, saying she was convinced there would be an agreement.

Sanchez first became prime minister of a minority government in June last year when parliament voted out a conservative government over a corruption scandal. Since April, his margin for manoeuvre has become more limited still.

Last week he dropped his opposition to forming a coalition government, while Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias - who supports a referendum on Catalan independence while Sanchez does not - agreed to not to seek a role in cabinet, as the acting prime minister had demanded.

But they still need to agree on a government pact and on who will be in cabinet. Even combined, they are short of a parliamentary majority, meaning they will need the support of smaller, regional parties to govern in an increasingly fragmented political landscape. That raises questions on how much the government would be able to achieve.

Sanchez is unlikely to win a first confidence vote on Tuesday, in which he would require an absolute majority, but is increasingly likely to win a second, simple majority vote on Thursday, if the Socialists and Podemos agree on a deal by then.

Sanchez won wide applause from the assembly when he said he wanted to put Spain at the forefront of the fight for women's rights.

He also said jobs, the sustainability of the pension system and education would be priorities, adding that he wanted to devote 5 percent of GDP to education from about 4 percent now. Sanchez added he wanted to make sure global technology companies pay taxes in Spain and guarantee data privacy. (Reporting by Belen Carreno, Emma Pinedo, Paul Day Writing by Ingrid Melander; editing by John Stonestreet)