What next after Spain’s inconclusive vote?

The leader and candidate of conservative Partido Popular (People’s Party) Alberto Nunez Feijoo gestures as he addresses supporters from a balcony of the PP headquarters in Madrid after Spain’s general election on 23 July, 2023AFP

Will Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez manage to cling onto power, will there be a right-wing minority government or will Spain be forced back to the polls?

AFP looks at the options after Sunday’s inconclusive election resulted in a hung parliament.

A right-wing government

The conservative Popular Party (PP) came first as predicted by the polls, but won far fewer mandates than expected -- taking 136 of the parliament’s 350 seats.

Even with the 33 seats won by the far-right Vox, its sole possible ally, the two parties will fall short of the 176 seats needed for a working majority.

PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo has pledged to work to form a government, and urged the Socialists and other parties not to “block” his efforts.

“The problem for the PP is that it needs the support of Vox and other parties to govern,” said Antonio Barroso, an analyst at political consultancy Teneo.

But even right-wing regional parties like the Basque nationalist PNV “will probably find it very hard to support a government that includes Vox,” which strongly opposes regional autonomy, he added.

The PP could also seek to form a minority government but for that it would need the Socialists to abstain during any investiture vote in parliament -- which Sanchez’s party has already ruled out.

Sanchez stays on

While Sanchez’s Socialists finished second with 122 seats, they have more options to create alliances with smaller parties.

The party can count on support from radical left ally Sumar which took 31 seats, as well as several smaller regional parties it relied on in the past such as Catalan separatists ERC and Basque separatists Bildu.

But to reach a working majority Sanchez would need the support -- or at very least an abstention -- of the hardline Catalan separatist party JxCat which wants an independence referendum -- a red line for Sanchez.

“If it depends on JxCat, it is a challenge because it has shown itself to be more opposed to Sanchez than it was in the past,” said Barroso.

Fresh elections

Analysts believe this is the most likely scenario.

If neither the left nor the right manage to cobble together a working majority, Spain will have to hold another election, most likely at the end of the year.

There is no deadline for parties to finish negotiating, but if no candidate secures a majority within two months of the first investiture vote in parliament, new elections must be held.

Federico Santi, analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said the Socialist party and the PPP “may not be opposed to a repeat election, which could see a larger share of the vote converge on the two parties.”