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Spain's election gridlock: What happens next?

The Local Spain
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Spain's election gridlock: What happens next?
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez may have proven himself to be a winning risktaker, but his Socialist Party will need the support of divisive regional parties to govern. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Spain's snap summer general election was too close to call and has done little to clarify things, with neither block winning a governable majority. What comes next could be controversial coalition deals or even another election.

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Almost everyone in Spain expected the Spanish right to win Sunday's general election. That was clear. What was unclear was whether or not the centre-right Partido Popular (PP) would go into coalition with far-right party Vox.

But when the results came in, neither the PP nor Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's ruling PSOE had a majority - with or without support from other parties. The PP won the most votes but underwhelmed, performing poorly compared to the pollster's predictions, and its potential coalition partner Vox lost 19 seats, denying the Spanish right of the majority everyone had expected.

READ ALSO: Bittersweet night for Spain's right as vote yields hung parliament

PSOE defied expectations, managing to marginally improve its number of seats, and left-wing platform Sumar almost matched Vox's number of seats (31 and 33 respectively).

What does this mean? Essentially that neither block, left or right, won enough seats for a majority, which means neither has a clear way into government based on last night's results. 

The future of Spanish politics is up in the air. But what happens now?

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Coalition negotiations begin

Negotiations to form coalitions and government pacts begin this morning. Both PP and PSOE will try to form coalitions and reach the all important 176 seats for an absolute majority. After claiming election victory, PP leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo told his fans on Sunday night that "as the candidate of the most-voted party, I believe it's my duty ... to try and govern our country."

"We are going to be talking a lot in these coming days and weeks," Feijóo said. "It is with great determination that I will take on the task of take on the task of opening dialogue to form a government," he added, urging the PSOE not "block" his efforts.

Technically speaking, Feijóo could try to form a minority government but that would depend on the abstention of the PSOE votes, something the buoyant Socialists have no intention of doing.

READ ALSO: Five key takeaways from Spain's general election

Feijóo will instead be forced to try and scrape together a coalition of parties not naturally allied with another, relying on the support Vox, possibly the PNV (Partido Nacionalista Vasco), UPN (Unión del Pueblo Navarro) or Coalición Canaria (CC). This could, in theory, add up to a majority, but it seems highly improbable that these regional parties would form any kind of pact with Vox, a party intensely critical of regional politics.

In reality the PP's only viable coalition partner is Vox and the two don't have a governable majority between them, and the Vox brand seems to have taken a beating at the polls.

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Left-wing options

Though PSOE didn't win as many seats or votes as the PP, it does have more potential coalition partners. If PSOE takes on Sumar deputies and gets the support of its parliamentary partners of the last five years - regional groups ERC, EH Bildu, and the PNV, combined with the abstention of Catalan party Junts - Sánchez could in theory become Prime Minister again. 

The congressional maths would work something like: 122 PSOE deputies, 31 from Sumar, 7 from ERC, 6 from Bildu, 5 from PNV and 1 from BNG, for a total of 179 seats and an absolute majority.

There are a lot of moving parts, but if either block were to manage a workable coalition, it seems more likely to be the Spanish left. Ironically, after a bitter campaign in which the PP and Vox attacked Sánchez's dependence on regionalist and separatist parties, their poor performance in the polls has actually given them more power and potentially made them kingmakers.

Catalan separatist Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) party MP Gabriel Rufián has said his and other Catalan parties could decide the outcome of Spain's general election. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)
 

A key component of any coalition negotiations will be the demands made by regional and separatist forces, particularly Basque separatist group EH Bildu and Catalan independence party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC). It will be politically tricky ground for Sánchez to make promises with regards to regional devolution or even independence referendums in return for backing his government.

Junts per Catalunya could also prove to be crucial, with the backing or abstention of its 7 deputies potentially enough to tip the balance in Sánchez's favour. But Miriam Nogueras, Junts spokeswomen, said in the aftermath of the results: "We will not make Pedro Sánchez President in exchange for nothing."

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Another election?

Weeks of negotiations likely lie ahead now, but they could fail. The campaign was particularly bitter, with Spanish society polarised and its politicians at loggerheads, and regional parties played a disproportionately large role in the public debate, notably EH Bildu.

Both blocks will tinker with the congressional configurations to try to reach the 176 seat majority, and both will continue to claim the election as a victory. Sunday's stalemate result was indecisive, has further complicated things, and likely compounded divisions between left and right.

Of course, if coalition talks fail and neither side can form a government, there could be another election later in the year. That would be Spain's sixth general election in eight years.

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