MADRID: Spain’s Socialists faced tough talks to form a government on Monday after the party emerged on top but weakened from a repeat election which produced an even more divided parliament and propelled far-right Vox into third place.

Neither the left nor the right bloc are anywhere near an absolute majority in the 350-seat assembly following Sunday’s polls, prolonging a political deadlock in the eurozone’s fourth largest economy after a similar result in the previous general election in April.

The “elections did not solve the difficulties in achieving a governing majority. On the contrary, (they) worsened them,” top-selling daily newspaper El Pais wrote in an editorial.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez triggered the repeat polls — Spain’s fourth in four years — after his Socialists failed to reach an agreement with other parties to forge a parliamentary majority in April.

But his gamble resulted in the party winning just 120 parliamentary seats — three fewer than in April — while far-left Podemos party slumped to 35 seats from 42 the last time around.

Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias urged the left to unite this time and said he was willing to start negotiating with Sanchez. However their two parties together would still need the support of several smaller parties to build a working majority of 176 seats in parliament.

The main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) recovered from its worst ever showing in April, finishing second with 88 seats, up from 66, while Vox was the biggest winner, mirroring recent gains by far-right parties elsewhere in Europe.

It won 52 seats — more than doubling the 24 it took during its April parliamentary debut in the most significant showing by a far-right faction since Spain’s return to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975.

“My hypothesis is it will be practically impossible to form a government in Spain... It will be harder than in the past,” said Joan Botella, a political science professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (AUB).

“All parties have a rival to their left, another rival to their right, and that blocks strategic options,” he added.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2019