Spain’s acting prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, will try to put together a coalition government within the next four weeks after the country’s second election in six months produced another hung parliament.
Spain, which has been without a government since 20 December, remains deeply fragmented after Sunday’s vote, in which Rajoy’s conservative People’s party (PP) increased its seat-count but fell well short of the 176 needed to secure a majority in the 350-seat congress of deputies.
Hours after bouncing up and down as he thanked PP voters for their trust and support, Rajoy said he hoped to put together a coalition as soon as possible, ideally involving his party’s traditional adversaries, the socialist PSOE.
The PSOE came second with 85 seats, the leftwing coalition Unidos Podemos third with 71 seats, and the centrist Ciudadanos party fourth with 32.
Rajoy said on Monday he would attempt “some kind of government formula”, telling Cope radio he was ruling nothing out when it came to finding the necessary support.
He said his first call would be to the PSOE, who confounded recent opinion polls by easily seeing off a challenge from Unidos Podemos, which had been forecast to eclipse it as Spain’s biggest leftwing party.
“I have to try to get a majority to govern because without one it’s very complicated and very difficult,” he said. “I think we should have a deal on the basic within a month.” Rajoy added that any further time-wasting would be pointless.
The conservative leader said it was only right that the Spanish people should have chosen to vote the PP and PSOE into first and second places given their leading roles in transforming the country over the past 40 years.
Despite the blandishments, however, the approach is unlikely to work. The PSOE leader, Pedro Sánchez, has repeatedly ruled out a deal with the PP as long as Rajoy is in charge, and on Sunday night he criticised the conservatives’ austerity measures.
A spokesman for the Socialists said the party would not support Rajoy’s re-election “by action or omission”, adding that the PSOE regarded the votes it had won as a mandate to fight the PP’s “unfair, ineffective and antisocial policies”.
It could, however, let the PP govern without a majority by abstaining from votes of confidence when candidates seek approval from parliament next month.
Rajoy could also try to build a coalition with Albert Rivera’s Ciudadanos, which had a disappointing election, taking eight fewer seats than last time. Between them they have 169 seats, but they could pick up another six from regional parties in the Canary Islands and the Basque country.
Antonio Barroso, an analyst at the political risk advisory firm Teneo Intelligence, said a PP-led minority government remained the most likely outcome of the Sunday’s election.
“If the stalemate materialises again, the PP will be the only alternative to a third round of elections,” he said. “This should in principle allow the other parties to justify their abstention in an investiture vote to facilitate a PP-led administration.”
The biggest upset of Sunday night was Unidos Podemos’s failure to pull off the much-anticipated coup of taking second place and overthrowing the PSOE as Spain’s dominant leftwing force.
In the run-up to the vote, the party seemed to have capitalised on growing disenchantment with the traditional political behemoths. Spain is emerging slowly from its economic crisis but still struggles with an unemployment rate of 21% and youth unemployment of 45%. Podemos’s position had also been strengthened by corruption scandals that have tarnished the PP in recent years.
But despite the initial confidence provoked by two exit polls putting it comfortably in second place, Unidos Podemos came nowhere near the predicted sorpasso, or overtaking, of the PSOE. Its recent decision to run on a joint ticket with United Left (IU), the leftwing coalition that includes the Communist party of Spain, failed to deliver.
Speaking at a press conference as the final results came in, the Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias, acknowledged that his party had fallen well short of expectations.
Proffering an olive branch to Sánchez, he added: “It’s time to reflect and, of course, it’s time to focus on dialogue between the progressive political forces.”
He did, however, promise to keep running until his party gained office, reminding the crowd that it had taken Chile’s late socialist president, Salvador Allende, four attempts to win power. After weeks of taking a more muted approach, he finished his speech by invoking Che Guevara and declaring: “Ever onwards to victory!”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Iglesias’s coalition partner Alberto Garzón, leader of the United Left party. Garzón said that although the results hadn’t been what they were hoping for, Unidos Podemos would carry on with its head unbowed.
Sánchez, whose attempts to form a coalition government earlier this year were thwarted by Podemos, appeared to shrug off the prospect of co-operation.
“They had the chance to vote for a progressive government led by the socialist party,” he said on Sunday night. “It was within their power to put an end to the government of Mariano Rajoy that has done so much damage to the middle and working classes with its cuts and its policies.”
The horsetrading may have begun, but it will be a month before the Spanish parliament convenes for a confidence vote in whichever candidate is proposed following consultations between political leaders and King Felipe VI.
If the candidate wins more than half the necessary 350 votes, they will receive the confidence of the congress of deputies. If not, another vote will be held 48 hours later in which the candidate again will need 50%, but at a lower threshold as parties are allowed to abstain as they see fit.
Should no candidate attract the necessary majority within two months, Spain could face a third general election.