Spain’s acting center-left Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez lost July’s national election but now has a shot at returning to power after the leader of the country’s conservatives failed for a second time Friday to get parliament’s support for a new government.
In a vote in the Congress of Deputies in Madrid, the Spanish parliament’s lower chamber, Popular Party leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo collected 172 lawmakers’ votes in his favor to 177 against him, with one vote declared null and void.
That was roughly the same tally that he received two days earlier, in the first round of voting, and the defeat exhausted his chances of taking power, bar an exceptional turn of events.
The Popular Party holds 137 seats in the Congress of Deputies, the most of any party, following the election. But even with backing from the far-right Vox party’s 33 lawmakers and two from small conservative rivals, it was not enough for Feijóo to win a simple parliamentary majority.
The outcome extended the political limbo of the European Union’s fourth-largest economy.
The July election produced a splintered parliament made up of 350 legislators from 11 parties, making the path to power difficult for any one of them and requiring them to strike deals with rivals.
If no government is in place by Nov. 27, another national election will be held on Jan. 14.
Friday’s vote opened a door for Socialist leader Sánchez, whose Socialists placed second in the election, to possibly return to power if he can persuade smaller parties to back him.
King Felipe VI is due to meet separately next Monday and Tuesday with party leaders to assess ways out of the gridlock. He could then invite Sánchez to submit to a parliamentary vote to form a new government.
Sánchez, 51, has been Spain’s prime minister for the past five years and is the country’s acting leader until a new government is formed.
His outgoing government has delivered bold policies in such areas as women’s rights and climate change. He called July’s snap election after his party had a poor showing in local and regional elections
Sánchez has quietly been trying to build a coalition in recent weeks, notably with the key support of Catalan parties in parliament who want the wealthy region to break away from the rest of Spain and fiercely oppose the conservatives.
The possibility that Sánchez is considering accepting politically explosive demands from the separatist parties that Spain grant an amnesty for hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who participated in a failed 2017 Catalan secession bid cast a long shadow over the parliamentary proceedings.
Sánchez, who has pardoned several high-level Catalan separatists, has kept his plans under wraps. He hasn’t mentioned the possibility of an amnesty, and only said that he wants to continue “normalizing” relations with the northeast region where tensions have decreased in recent years.
But leading Catalan separatists have said that the amnesty is a real possibility. They have also said they want an independence referendum in Catalonia in return for their support.
In a statement late Thursday, the Socialists said they wanted to keep discussions alive with the separatists but “always in accordance with the Constitution.” That remark effectively killed off the chance of an independence ballot, though it was unclear to what extent each side was setting out its bargaining chips.