Spain’s Socialist Party loses 1st bid to form government


MADRID (AP) – Spain’s Socialist Party lost its first attempt Wednesday to form a government, falling far short of the parliamentary votes needed ahead of a second ballot set for Friday that looks unlikely to solve the country’s political paralysis following a fragmented national election two months ago.

The Socialists led by Pedro Sanchez got just 130 votes, with 219 against and one abstention. The conservative Popular Party led by acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the far-left newcomer Podemos party joined with several small regional parties to deny Sanchez’ attempt at becoming prime minister.

Fierce negotiations are sure to take place ahead of the fresh parliamentary vote Friday night on Sanchez’ candidacy, but leaders of the Popular Party and Podemos insisted after the first vote that their members would not change course.

Wednesday’s vote came after an inconclusive Dec. 20 election that saw the nation’s traditional two-party system shattered with the entry of Podemos and another upstart party, the business-friendly Ciudadanos.

Podemos and Cuidadanos got third and fourth place because of voter outrage over Spain’s 21 percent unemployment rate, unpopular austerity measures invoked by the Popular Party during its 2011-2015 rule and corruption scandals hitting the Popular and Socialist parties that have alternated ruling the nation for decades.

Sanchez needed at least 176 votes from the 350-member lower house of parliament to form a government but only received his party’s 90 votes plus 40 from Ciudadanos.

Rajoy earlier Wednesday labeled Sanchez’s plans to form a government as a joke and said all of his party’s 123 deputies would vote against the Socialists, who came in second in the election. Rajoy’s party came in first but failed to win back the parliamentary majority it had previously.

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos with 69 seats, said his lawmakers voted against Sanchez because they did not believe the Socialists would lead a bonafide leftist government.

Sanchez has another chance Friday in a second parliamentary voting round with different winning rules in which he must get more votes for him than against him. That’s a lower bar which allows parties to abstain, letting a rival into power in return for concessions.

Rajoy decided in January not to try to form a government because he lacked support.

If Sanchez fails to win Friday’s vote, Parliament has two more months to try to choose a government or new elections will be called for June 26.

A governing alliance of parties excluding the first-place winner has never happened nationally in Spain.

But it recently happened in neighboring Portugal and has a precedent in Spain at the regional and local governing level.

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