IN AN unprecedented move in Spain's democratic history, socialist leader Pedro Sánchez has lost his second attempt at being invested as president after his party's only supporters were the 40 MPs from centre-liberals Ciudadanos.
Left-wing Podemos' 65 MPs and its own supporters, United Left's two MPs, plus Valencia-based Compromís and the various nationalist parties in the Basque Country and Catalunya all voted against, as did the PSOE's arch rivals and political opposites, the right-wing PP.
Podemos' leader Pablo Iglesias has never made any secret of the fact he does not support any new government which would involve Ciudadanos, whom his party considers to be 'far-right' and with policies that 'only benefit the IBEX 35' – Spain's answer to the FTSE 100, but the top 35 companies instead of the top 100 – rather than the general public and their social welfare needs.
And Ciudadanos has always been reluctant to work with Podemos, although so far, it has been the only party which is prepared to negotiate with literally anyone, pointedly does not seek leadership or status for its own members, and whose only real red line is that it will not allow a referendum on independence for Catalunya.
Iglesias is in favour of a referendum – although he does not support Catalunya's becoming a separate nation, he firmly believes Spain's unity lies in equality in discussion and in democracy rather than 'forcing' the region to stay connected through denying it a voice.
Podemos has also said several times that he believes the 'real' negotiation would not be ready to start until after the in-house voting had been lost by Sánchez yesterday (Friday).
Despite remaining firm to his 'no' vote, Iglesias attempted to build bridges with the PSOE by announcing in his own Parliamentary speech that 'at times, the most bitter arguments come before the sweetest moments' and that 'let's hope tonight we will come to an agreement'.
He called for Sánchez to 'start right now' on finding common ground with Podemos, Compromís and United Left to form a government, saying between them they would be guaranteed the abstention of the Basque and Catalunya nationalists who 'are not monsters, but representative of popular sovereignty'.
“I challenge you to be the president of a coalition government with a truly progressive programme – to work towards a Valencian-style government,” Iglesias addressed Sánchez, reminding him that after 24 years of right-wing PP rule which had brought stagnation to the eastern region, it was now governed by the socialists in conjunction with Compromís and with the support of Podemos.
But he insisted this future government would have to be a coalition.
“I realise that it's not exactly your wildest dream come true, governing alongside me,” he admitted, but urged 'everyone' to give way a little and recognise that it was 'not going to be easy' and the way ahead was guaranteed to be 'fraught with difficulties'.
“This agreement I'm referring to will be the one that most worries the PP, Mariano Rajoy [acting president and PP leader] and the other oligarchs of this country. Pedro Sánchez, it's time for you to come to a compromise with us. It's time for you to form a government where responsibilities and decisions are adopted jointly and severally by the socialists, Podemos and other left-wing political forces.”
Podemos' leader continued by pointing out that Wednesday's Parliamentary debate, in keeping with yesterday's, showed that 'a progressive, left-wing coalition government would gain more positive votes than negative votes'.
“This coalition à la valenciana is exactly what Podemos has been proposing from day one,” Iglesias concluded.
What happens next?
Never before in Spain's 41-year democratic history has a presidential in-house vote failed, and Rajoy's prediction – which he told UK prime minister David Cameron of during the recent European Union Summit – that Spain would be called back to the polls for another general election on June 26 looks more and more likely to come true.
But most parties want to avoid this, and the polls show that the results would almost certainly be very similar to those of the December 20 general elections – a situation that would solve nothing, as it would put all political forces back in the same position they are currently stuck in.
The last-ditch attempt to break the impasse is a two-month period of renegotiation between the parties.
King Felipe VI, in the thick of his first-ever general election as reigning monarch – his father Juan Carlos I having abdicated in June 2014 after having been the only King on the throne since the end of Franco's dictatorship – is being forced into a much more centre-stage role than he ever anticipated.
Parliamentary chairman Patxi López (PSOE) is due to advise Felipe VI formally on Monday at 13.00hrs of the failed second attempt at investing Sánchez as president, although clearly, the monarch is already very much aware of this.
King Felipe will then decide whether to call a third round of consultations, in which he speaks to all lead candidates of parties who have gained seats in Parliament – or whether to agree a period of time for the parties to continue their mutual discussions.
Felipe VI is not obliged to call another consultation round, and it appears more likely he will go with the latter option.
According to Article 99.4 of the Spanish Constitution, the King is able to call a fresh round of consultations at any moment during the two-month negotiation period if he deems fit.
The next round of consultations the King is expected to convene will be after the two months of discussions and he will then formally invite a party candidate to form a government and stand for the in-house voting.
He initially did so with Rajoy, given that the PP had won the most seats – 123, although a long way short of the necessary majority of 176 – but Rajoy turned down the invitation as he did not feel he had enough support from other parties.
The King then nominated Sánchez, who accepted.
Once the next nomination is made, a set period of time to convene an in-house voting round will be granted.
Spain's Magna Carta establishes a deadline of exactly two months to the day from the first in-house vote, which was on Wednesday this week – meaning if no candidate manages to form a government by May 2, the King is required to dissolve Parliament and call another general election.
The deadline for the election is 54 days after the dissolution of Parliament, meaning the election would be on June 26.
If the election results are equally as 'hung' as those of December, the entire process will have to start again.
Critics say the lack of agreement between the parties, which have so far left Spain without a government for nearly three months, could mean 2016 ends up being a 'lost year' for national politics with no law changes or new policies brought in to help the country to economic recovery and to mopping up the unemployment crisis.