Pedro Sánchez's Socialist Party won April 28 national elections, but fell short of a majority. His weeklong attempts to entice the far-left United We Can party came to nothing. Sánchez needed to get the support of 176 lawmakers in the 350-member lower house to be able to form a government. Instead, he only received the "Yes" votes of his 123 Socialist lawmakers and one member of a marginal regional party. The three right-wing parties and some smaller parties tallied 170 "No" votes, while another 52 lawmakers abstained. Four Catalan separatists who were suspended from their seats while awaiting a verdict in a rebellion trial could not vote.
The defeat was expected after Monday's parliamentary debate featured Sánchez and United We Can leader Pablo Iglesias blaming each other for not ceding enough ground to form a center-left, far-left coalition government.
The focus now shifts to Thursday, when the bar will be lower for Sánchez and he will need just more "Yes" than "No" votes. But key again will be United We Can. On Monday, Iglesias accused Sánchez of not wanting to give politicians of his party relevant roles in his new Cabinet. Sánchez countered that he offered Iglesias several options that he had rejected.
Even with United We Can on board, Sánchez would also require the help of some smaller parties from the Basque Country and restive Catalonia. Sánchez insisted before Tuesday's vote that United We Can is his "preferred partner" and that he will work hard during the coming 48 hours to forge a last-minute agreement.
United We Can parliamentary spokeswoman Ione Belarra said her party's decision to abstain instead of voting "No" on Tuesday is their way of sending a message that the door is not closed. "We are going to continue working so that there can be a coalition government," she said. "Time is running out and that obliges the Socialist Party to make a move."
If Sánchez fails again, then a countdown starts to Sept. 23 for lawmakers to form a government or face another election, which would be Spain's fourth in five years. Sánchez could try again during that two-month period, especially given that the parties on the right cannot reach a majority by themselves.
Wilson contributed from Barcelona.