Spain's King asks acting PM to form govt

Uphill task for Rajoy to end seven-month deadlock as most other parties don't back him

MADRID • Spain's King has tasked acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy with the delicate mission of forming a government and unblocking seven months of political paralysis after a second round of inconclusive elections.

Mr Rajoy told reporters King Felipe VI had asked him if he would attempt to form a government, adding he had "accepted this assignment" and would work to get the support he needs - which is a challenge because most other parties refuse to back him.

The country has been without a fully functioning government for seven months, leaving it in political limbo as it needs to take urgent steps to reduce its deficit as well as address a growing separatist movement in the Catalonia region.

The blockage started after elections on Dec 20 failed to give any party an absolute parliamentary majority, as upstart groupings Ciudadanos and Podemos shook up Spain's long-established two- party system.

Fed up with years of austerity and repeated corruption scandals, millions of Spaniards tasked the two upstarts to revitalise the country.

But efforts to forge a coalition were unsuccessful as rival parties were unable to overcome their differences, prompting repeat elections in June with a similar result.

Mr Rajoy's Popular Party (PP), in power since 2011, won the June 26 vote with 137 seats out of 350. Although its victory margin was wider than in the December polls, the conservative party still failed to achieve an absolute majority.

This time round, Mr Rajoy faces a similarly difficult task. He needs to get enough support from other parties to push a coalition or minority government through a parliamentary vote of confidence - be it with ballots in favour or abstentions.

But Mr Pedro Sanchez, head of the Socialist party, has said his party will not back Mr Rajoy, as has the far-left Podemos. With 85 seats, the Socialists have the power to block the PP.

Meanwhile, Ciudadanos chief Albert Rivera said his party will abstain in a vote of confidence, though with its 32 seats, this will still not be enough for Mr Rajoy to push his government through.

The date for the vote has yet to be set and Spain still faces weeks of uncertainty, particularly as the PP and Socialists appear far from reaching any kind of agreement.

Failure to come to an agreement would eventually prompt a third round of elections - a situation Mr Rajoy said he would work to avoid.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Spain's King asks acting PM to form govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe