Spanish political party leaders were called in for a new round of talks with King Felipe VI on Monday ahead of a fresh attempt to form a new government. After July's general election produced a strung parliament consisting of 350 legislators from 11 different parties, coalition-building has proven difficult.
Alberto Nunez Feijoo, head of the opposition conservative People's Party (PP), came out narrowly ahead in the election, but his last attempt to form a majority coalition was voted down 177 to 172 on Friday.
Now, King Felipe has asked current caretaker Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the socialist PSOE to form a government that can command the required support of 176 lawmakers in parliament — an endeavor which observers consider more achievable, but still difficult.
Sanchez, 51, whose party won 122 seats, requires the support of two smaller Catalonian parties which have both campaigned for independence in recent years: the left-wing ERC under Pere Aragones, the current head of the regional government of Catalonia, and the conservative Junts of separatist leader Carles Puigdemont.
Both parties have made potentially explosive demands for a referendum on self-determination for the northeastern region, and an amnesty for hundreds of people who participated in a failed 2017 Catalan secession push — including Puigdemont, who has been living in exile in Belgium following that attempted breakaway.
Sanchez' outgoing minority coalition has delivered bold policies in such areas as women's rights and climate change in recent years. He called July's snap election after his party had a poor showing in local and regional elections, but then went on to win more votes than expected, helping create the current near-stalemate.
Sanchez will have until November 27 to form a viable coalition, after which fresh elections will have to be held on January 14.
Apart from the domestic political situation, Spain's EU presidency, up to the end of December is being overshadowed by political uncertainty.