Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's Socialists won Spain's national election on Sunday but large gains by the upstart far-right Vox party appear certain to widen the political deadlock in the European Union's fifth-largest economy.
Spain's acting prime minister, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, faced the prospect of hard bargaining to form a government on Monday after his gamble on holding Spain's second election this year resulted in no clear victor but a surge for the far right.
The outcome could mean there will be no immediate end to the stalemate between forces on the right and the left in Spain, suggesting the country could go many more weeks or even months without a new government.
Spain had, till now and because of its history, been considered immune to the populist rise of the far right in Europe but the clear victor has been the far right VOX which has gained 28 seats, giving it 52.
"I call on all political parties to work on unblocking the political situation in Spain".
"We call upon all the political parties, except for those that work against coexistence and foster hatred."
The far-right Vox party was on track to take third place with 52 seats, more than doubling its seats in parliament since the last general election in April. Three Catalan separatist parties won a combined 23 seats, one more than in April. Its increase in the number of votes across Spain was smaller, however, rising by a third.
The figures pointed to a legislative stalemate with neither the left nor right having a majority.
Some 37 million people were eligible to cast their votes in the latest election.
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The Socialists would prefer to govern in a minority, which would only be possible if the PP abstained in a parliamentary confidence vote - but with the strengthening of the right, the PP was unlikely to agree. The bigger question would be who its allies could be and how long such a government could last.
Although Vox has now established itself as a major right-wing force in Spanish politics, critics note that its agenda remains rather vague.
The outcome will require party leaders to be creative, negotiate seriously this time and, for some, swallow their pride, after higher abstention rates on Sunday showed that voters are exhausted of being called repeatedly to the ballot box. But in the future ...
"There are things about Vox that I don't like, but if they can bring some order to things like migration, health and the autonomous regions, that would be good", says 54-year-old Lidia Pascual, who runs a rural bed-and-breakfast.
That will make Vox the third leading party in the Congress of Deputies, giving it much more leverage in forming a government and crafting legislation.
"It will be practically impossible to form a government in Spain. harder than in the past", forecast Joan Botella, a political scientist at Barcelona's Autonomous University (AUB).
The new parliament, which will hold its inaugural session in early December, will include 16 parties, including several more regional ones and the anti-capitalist, pro-Catalan independence CUP party.
In fact, Sanchez has actually lost some ground, and the left-wing Unidas Podemos (United We Can) party which is the Socialists' most natural ally in the Cortes Generales, as the Spanish parliament is known, has lost even more.