Spain will hold parliamentary elections on November 10, acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez said on Tuesday after failing to secure enough support to be confirmed as premier.
It will be the fourth time voters go to the polls in four years.
"It has been impossible to complete the mandate given to us by the Spanish people on April 28. They have made it impossible for us," Sanchez said, referring to opposition parties. "There is no majority in Congress that guarantees the formation of a government, which pushes us to a repeat election on November 10."
Spain has been in political limbo since an inconclusive election in April left Spanish socialist party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez without a majority to form a government.
In July, parliament twice rejected his confirmation bid, and this week was his last opportunity to form a government.
Sanchez made the announcement after King Felipe said there no viable candidates to lead a new government after consulting the leaders of the major political parties to know whether it was still possible to reach a deal.
However, it's not certain a repeat election would make it easier to form a government. Opinion polls show that Socialists, even though they will win more seats, will be unable to secure a majority of their own.
"Pedro Sanchez had a mandate to form a government. But he didn't want to. Arrogance and disdain for the basic rules of parliamentary democracy have come before common sense," said Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the far-left Unidas Podemos, in response to Sanchez's announcement.
What is fueling the political impasse?
After inconclusive April elections, it became clear that no political party would be able to govern without forming a coalition.
Spanish socialists won the elections with 28.8% of the votes — that’s 123 seats out of the 350 that make up the Spanish parliament.
Despite three months of talks, it hasn't managed to reach a deal on forming a coalition with Podemos.
The negotiations became deadlocked on the question of what role and what power Podemos would have in a new government. Each side accused the other of negotiating in bad faith.
Juan López Uralde is an MP from Podemos and a member of the group’s negotiating team. He told Euronews: “It is clear the work of both negotiations team is over, we have gone a far as we can go, it is now in the hands of both the party leaders, Pedro Sanchez, and Pablo Iglesias.”
Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias reaffirmed on Tuesday that he would only support Sanchez’s bid to become premier if he agrees to a coalition government.
According to Spanish electoral legislation, the candidate needs an absolute majority of votes in the first round or failing that, a simple majority of more affirmative than negative votes in a second round.
The Socialists have repeatedly rejected any agreement on a coalition government with Podemos.
So it is not likely at all that Podemos' 35 MPs will vote in favour of Sanchez, which would make abstentions by other parties irrelevant.
Speaking at a news conference, Iglesias also said it would be "reasonable" for King Felipe to give more time to talks ahead of a deadline next Monday.
Would a Podemos-PSOE coalition be enough?
Even if PSOE was able to strike a coalition deal with Podemos, they would still be missing ten seats to reach a majority. This means they would need the support of smaller left-wing parties such as the Catalan independentists, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (15), Junts per Catalunya (7), and the Basque Nationalist Party PNV (6).
In Sanchez's last investiture in July, which he lost, Esquerra Republicana voted for Sanchez.
Opinion polls show a new election might not end the impasse, with the Socialists still unable to win enough seats to secure a majority on their own.
In an unexpected plot twist on Monday, Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera offered to abstain at the investiture vote, which would help Sanchez achieve a simple majority in the second round. An abstention gives less chance of getting negatives votes. Ciudadanos is the third-largest party in parliament with 57 seats.
However, Sanchez would have a high price to pay for Ciudadanos’ support.
Rivera said he would facilitate Sanchez’s investiture as premier under a number of conditions.
The Ciudadanos' leader wanted Sanchez to promise not to increase taxes, apply direct rule again in Catalonia if the regional government doesn’t accept an upcoming sentence in a separatist trial and stop governing in the region of Navarra with the support of far-left secessionist Basque nationalist party Bildu.
Sanchez responded his party was already fulfilling the conditions. But Ciudadanos accused him of lying in his response and said it could back him only if he complied with all their demands.
"His response ... is a joke on all Spaniards. I'm asking him to rectify, to go back to constitutionality and allow to unblock Spain," Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera wrote on Twitter.