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Spain Heads to 4th Election in 4 Years After Failure to Form Government

MADRID — Spain was plunged on Tuesday into another round of political uncertainty after King Felipe VI announced that its main parties had failed to agree on who should lead the next government, forcing another national election in November.

Pedro Sánchez, the caretaker Socialist prime minister, blamed the other three main parties for failing to endorse him as the government’s leader, after he won a clear-cut election victory in April but did not gain a parliamentary majority.

It will be the fourth election in four years, underscoring how fragmented and polarized Spanish politics have become. In 2016, Spain spent 10 months in political limbo after two inconclusive elections, a sign of future fractures. In July, Mr. Sánchez lost a bid to take office amid feuding between the two major left-wing parties, the Socialists and Unidas Podemos, over a power-sharing agreement.

“I have tried by all possible means, but it has proved impossible,” Mr. Sánchez said Tuesday evening at a news conference, to explain why five months of negotiations had ended in failure. “Spain needs a government, but not any old government.”

Mr. Sánchez’s victory in April briefly seemed to stand out as a rare beacon of recent Socialist and pro-European success on the Continent, at a time when the solidity of the European Union has been challenged by the rise of populist leaders and the byzantine negotiations over Britain’s planned exit from the bloc.

In recent months, Mr. Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Unidas Podemos, have squabbled over whether politicians from Unidas Podemos should run ministries within a new coalition government. Recent opinion polls suggest a repeat election will widen the gap between the Socialists and Unidas Podemos, but not enough for the Socialists to come close to an absolute majority.

Spain’s election calendar gives Mr. Sánchez or another party leader until next Monday to form a government, so technically a surprise candidacy could still emerge. But after Mr. Sánchez’s news conference, none of Spain’s other main politicians indicated they were contemplating another bid to avoid a return to the polls, making the election a near-certainty.

In fact, as in 2016, there is no guarantee that a new election, scheduled for Nov. 10, will break the deadlock among the four parties that have been vying for power since 2015, when Podemos and another new party, Ciudadanos, shattered Spain’s two-party system.

But Mr. Sánchez also runs the risk that voters disillusioned with the failed coalition talks could stay away from the polls. In April he was lifted by a near-record turnout of 76 percent as he sought to mobilize voters to stop the return of the far right in Spain. The ultranationalist party Vox ended up winning 10 percent of the votes.

The election gave Mr. Sánchez and his party 123 of the 350 seats in Parliament, almost twice the number of their main opponents, the conservative Popular Party, whose support was cut in half in the party’s worst showing in its history.

The stalemate in Spanish politics comes as the country faces several important challenges, both political and economic. Mr. Sánchez mentioned on Tuesday that Spain needed to contend with a prolonged secessionist conflict in Catalonia as well as an anticipated economic slowdown after several years of steady growth following a European banking bailout in 2012.

The Spanish Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling by mid-October in the landmark trial of 12 former separatist leaders of Catalonia, who have been charged with rebellion and other crimes during a botched attempt to secede unilaterally from Spain in 2017.

Quim Torra, the separatist regional leader of Catalonia, recently warned that a conviction could set off civil disobedience in Catalonia and street protests, which he said could resemble this summer’s demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Mr. Sánchez, 47, took office unexpectedly in June 2018 after Parliament ousted Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his Popular Party, which had become entangled in a major corruption scandal. But the abrupt power switch also caused a falling-out between Mr. Sánchez and Albert Rivera, the leader of Ciudadanos. It left Mr. Sánchez at the helm of a fragile minority government that collapsed in February, when he was unable to get Parliament to approve his national budget.

On Tuesday evening, Mr. Sánchez blamed Spain’s center-right politicians, as well as those of Unidas Podemos, for failing to guarantee a new government “capable of meeting the challenges faced by our country.” He called on voters to return to the polls in November and grab “an opportunity to say things a lot more clearly.”

But with an election two months away, leading politicians from other parties quickly rejected any responsibility for the collapse of talks and instead blamed Mr. Sánchez, as caretaker prime minister and leader of the largest party.

Gabriel Rufián, a Catalan lawmaker whose separatist party helped Mr. Sánchez gain office last year, said on Twitter that Mr. Sánchez had shown himself to be either incompetent or irresponsible by forcing Spain into another election.

In an editorial, the newspaper El País suggested that the failed talks — which it called “exasperating months of paralysis” — reflected “the political irresponsibility” of Spain’s current generation of party leaders.

Source: NYT > World News

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