MADRID, Oct 1, 2015 (AFP) - Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on Thursday (Oct 1) announced that Spain's forthcoming general election will be held on December 20.
Rajoy, who announced the date in an interview with Antena 3 television, enjoys an absolute majority in parliament with his conservative Popular Party (PP), but opinion polls suggest support for the opposition Socialist Party is running close behind.
Far-left party Podemos, which wants to loosen the grip of austerity introduced by Rajoy's government since it came to power in 2011, is running in third place.
If the Socialists and Podemos teamed up in a coalition, they could boot the PP from power, surveys suggest.
Rejecting an alternative proposal to hold the vote earlier in December, Rajoy told Antena 3: "We will now have a margin in which to install the parliament after the holidays." Rajoy won a resounding victory in 2011 as voters turned against the ruling Socialists for their management of the financial crisis that rocked the country in 2008.
Catalan demands for independence will likely loom large over the upcoming polls after separatist parties on Sunday won Catalonia's regional election, a vote they had billed as a de facto referendum on breaking away from Spain.
Rajoy has repeatedly refused separatists' demands for an official referendum on the matter and this week ruled out discussing a split with the wealthy northwestern region.