Spanish MPs have rejected acting PM Mariano Rajoy's bid to form a government. The next step is in two days with a second parliamentary vote, but this year's third election now looks likely to be held at Christmas.
Mariano Rajoy, leader of the center-right People's Party (PP), secured the backing of only 170 representatives in the 350-strong assembly, six seats short of the majority he needed.
Liberal parliamentary newcomer Ciudadanos voted in favor of Rajoy, as did a small party from the Canary Islands, but he failed to make inroads with the Socialists (PSOE), the anti-austerity alliance Unidos Podemos and regional parties from the Basque Country and Catalonia.
Rajoy's People's Party emerged as the strongest party in June elections after two elections in which the PP won but fell short of an absolute majority. Spain has been without a full-fledged government for more than eight months, after voters elected a fragmented parliament in December and then again in June.
"I ask you to let us govern," Rajoy told Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez. "Don't block and don't lead us to a third round of elections." Sanchez in turn responded, calling the confidence vote "the chronicle of a failure foretold."
The opposition Socialists (PSOE) have refused to back Rajoy, with leader Pedro Sanchez repeating he would vote against Rajoy.
Rajoy in turn accused the PP of "stubbornly wanting new elections," pointing to the lack of a fully-functioning government has also delayed the drafting of a 2017 budget, which needs to be approved by mid-October to comply with EU rules.
The main players in the merry-go-round: Pablo Iglesias, Albert Rivera, Pedro Sanchez and Mariano Rajoy Rivera (L-R)
"It is hard to think of anything that could cause more damage to Spanish democracy than telling citizens that their vote has been useless on two occasions and that a general election needs to be held for a third time," he said.
For the second vote on Friday, a simple majority would suffice, meaning the acting prime minister, who has secured the backing of centrist Ciudadanos, would only need the PP to abstain. If there is no breakthrough, Spaniards will be asked to return to the polls on December 25, the date determined by timings laid out in Spanish election law, or December 18 if the proceedings are speeded up.
"They are incapable of leading the country," Sanchez said. Leader the leftist party Podemos (We Can), Pablo Iglesias, meanwhile, said that Rajoy's PP "embodies corruption."
Two Spanish regions - the Basque Country and Galicia - hold elections on September 25. The Basque Nationalist Party, which has five seats in the national parliament, could support a new bid by Rajoy if it needs the backing of his party to govern the Basque Country.
jbh/kms (dpa, AFP)