Spanish King Asks Opposition Chief to Try to Form Government

(Bloomberg) -- Spain’s King Felipe VI invited opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo to try to form a government and avoid an extended political stalemate, even though the conservative politician has said he doesn’t have the necessary support from parliament.

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Feijoo’s People’s Party has 137 seats in the Spanish Parliament, more than any other party, but short of the 176 needed for a majority. He could reach 172 with lawmakers from three other groups.

The invitation, announced late on Tuesday by Parliamentary Speaker Francina Armengol, exposes the dilemma for Felipe. Neither of the country’s two main candidates — Feijoo and acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez — is certain to be able to form a government, threatening a lengthy deadlock.

In the nine years since he became king, Felipe has faced a tumultuous political period as Spain’s two-party system crumbled with the emergence of upstart parties on the left and right, as well as the first successful no-confidence vote and the only coalition government since the return to democracy in the 1970s. He also faced a major constitutional crises when the Catalan government tried to declare independence in 2017.

Late Tuesday, the Royal House issued a statement saying that during the king’s talks with political leaders Tuesday “no evidence emerged of the existence of a majority” and therefore Felipe decided to stick to the tradition of inviting the most voted candidate to try to become premier. The timing of the investiture vote will be set by Speaker Argmengol after consulting with Feijoo.

Earlier in the day, after meeting with Felipe, Feijoo said that if the king invited him he would accept and start talking to other groups in parliament to try to get the missing four seats.

That’s a tough task because all other parties are strongly opposed to being linked to the People’s Party’s main ally, a far-right group. It could take months before a government is formed or new elections are called.

Feijoo needs an absolute majority to win or a simple majority in a second vote, meaning Sanchez still have a shot at the job if the conservative leader loses. Sanchez’s Socialists have 121 seats and can count on an additional 31 from Sumar, the left-wing coalition partner that replaced his previous junior coalition ally, and is likely to get backing from about 19 more lawmakers from several other parties. That, though, would still leave them short of a majority in the 350-seat chamber.

Sanchez notched a major win for himself earlier this month when he managed to have a Armengol, a Socialist, named following a last minute agreement to get support from a Catalan separatist group.

Now, those same separatists are demanding a sweeping amnesty for hundreds of activists facing legal action for their involvement in the failed 2017 independence proclamation. They include Carles Puigdemont, who as regional president at the time sought to break Catalonia away from Spain but ended up fleeing the country to avoid prison.

On Wednesday, Esteban Gonzalez Pons, a lawmaker and one of the PP’s top officials, said in an interview with Onda Cero radio that the party will reach out to most groups, including Puigdemont’s separatists, to see if they can win enough support for Feijoo to be elected.

The election of the speaker also shed light on the frailty of the right-wing bloc. The People’s Party and nationalist group Vox had indicated they would vote together as part of a broader alliance that has seen them take over several regional governments and hundreds of municipalities. But when the time came to vote for a speaker, Vox opted to vote for its own candidate.

In 2016, then conservative caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy rejected an invitation by the king to seek an investiture as he didn’t have enough support to ensure a victory in parliament, preferring the possibility of a second election. He subsequently kept the post of premier when the rival Socialists abstained. Then, in 2018, Rajoy lost the job when Sanchez led a no-confidence vote against him.

--With assistance from Demetrios Pogkas.

(Updates with PP official’s comments Wednesday in 11th paragraph.)

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