MADRID • Spain's ruling Socialists were weighing options for forming a new government yesterday after they emerged as the biggest party but fell short of a majority following a national election that produced a deeply fragmented Parliament.
Playing down talk of possible coalition options, Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the Socialists would try to govern alone, while party president Cristina Narbona said it was in no hurry to decide.
"The Socialists will try to govern on their own," Ms Calvo said in an interview on Cadena Ser radio. "We have more than enough (votes) to steer this ship along the course it must follow."
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose Socialist Workers' Party celebrated into the small hours after increasing its representation in Sunday's election to 123 seats from 84, declined to comment ahead of a strategy meeting yesterday.
If he does seek a coalition partner, he could opt for a complex alliance with fellow leftists Podemos that would likely require support from at least one Catalan separatist lawmaker, or he could risk upsetting his grassroots supporters by joining forces across the political divide with centre-right Ciudadanos.
Any coalition talks could take weeks or months and might end in deadlock, plunging Europe's fifth largest economy into a new period of uncertainty as the continent wrestles with the complexities of Brexit and other challenges.
Concerns at home and abroad that Vox, a newcomer far-right party, would gain a share of power unprecedented since Spain's return to democracy in the 1970s failed to materialise. It won 24 seats, fewer than expected, and split the right-wing vote.
For many observers, the Podemos option appears Mr Sanchez's likelier path, even with the two parties 11 seats short of a majority. Podemos leader Pablo Iglesais said he would happily enter a coalition.
Vox, the first party of that political hue to sit in Parliament in significant numbers since late dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975, splintered the right-wing vote to leave the mainstream conservative People's Party (PP) languishing on just 66 seats, its worst result since the early 1980s.
Mr Sanchez took office last June after the then-governing PP lost a confidence vote called over the involvement of party members in corruption.
He called Sunday's election when his Budget failed to get through Parliament after Catalan separatists refused to back it.
While Mr Sanchez has ruled out any negotiations on Catalan independence, any deal with the separatists would rake over the coals of the most divisive topic of an often tense election campaign that was dominated by issues of national identity.
Under Spanish electoral law, a new government requires an absolute majority in Parliament to take office in a first round of voting.
In any second round, Mr Sanchez would need only a simple majority to get his government voted in, which the Socialists and Podemos could do with backing of all regional parties except the Catalans, plus one abstention.
Mr Sanchez might instead try to cut a deal with Ciudadanos.
The two parties together would have an absolute majority and speculation has persisted that they might team up.