MADRID -- Spaniards woke up Monday to find their country in political disarray after a general election a day earlier left no party with a clear path to forming a government.
The uncertainty deepened as both of Spain's two main parties indicated that they hope to take power. The only sure thing seems to be that the country faces weeks, perhaps months, of political negotiations and possibly a new election to sort out the mess.
Here's a look at what happened and what might unfold in the next few months.
A BITTER VICTORY FOR THE OPPOSITION
Alberto Nuñez Feijóo 's right-of-center Popular Party, or PP, won the most votes and finished with 133 seats. But contrary to nearly every preelection opinion poll, it fell far short of the 176 seats a party needs to secure a majority in the 350-seat Spanish parliament.
Even if it joins forces with the extreme right party Vox, which garnered 33 seats, it won't reach that threshold.
In a nutshell, the PP’s decision to consider forming a coalition with Vox didn't pay off with voters.
With its stated intention of ousting Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez now far from certain, the PP insists that as the first-placed party in the ballot it has the right to form a government.
The PP has urged the Socialists to abstain in a parliamentary vote and allow the party to take power. But such a scenario is highly unlikely given the traditional animosity between the two groups.
Besides Vox, the PP has few friends in parliament.
COULD THERE BE ANOTHER LEFTIST COALITION?
Despite all predictions, Sánchez has an outside chance of staying in office. His Socialist party won 122 seats and his main potential partner, Sumar, has 31.
Since 2019, his leftist minority coalition government has relied on the support of small regional parties in the Basque and Catalonia regions. He could try to repeat that balancing act.
But even if he managed to round up the regional troops again, one major hurdle looms: He would need the support or abstention of the Catalan secessionist party Junts.
The party's leader, Carles Puigdemont, is a member of the European Parliament, living in Belgium. But he is also a fugitive from Spanish justice and faces possible extradition to stand trial for staging an independence push in 2017.
Junts officials have already said they will want something in return for doing a deal with Sánchez. The specter of them demanding an independence referendum for Catalonia as their price would open up a Pandora's box for both Spain and Sánchez.
WHO ARE THE OTHER MAIN PLAYERS?
Besides the conservative Popular Party and the center-left Socialists, the two other principle players are Vox, led by Santiago Abascal, and the leftist Sumar movement, headed by acting second deputy prime minister, Yolanda Díaz.
The prospect of Spain having a far-right party in power for the first time since Gen. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship has diminished for the moment after Vox lost 19 of its parliamentary seats to finish with a total of 33. Even so, it remains the country´s third political force.
Sumar, with 31 seats, failed to pip Vox for third place, but has said it will seek to form another leftist progressive government with Sánchez.
WILL THERE BE ANOTHER ELECTION?
That leader would then put his candidacy to parliamentary votes. Any candidate getting sufficient support can form a government.
The 350 lawmakers have up to three months to reach an agreement. Otherwise, a new election would be triggered.
Barry Hatton contributed to this report from Lisbon, Portugal.
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