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Parliamentary Election - December 2015

Spain's harshest economic crisis since General Francisco Franco's rule ended in 1975 laid the ground for what some believe will be a lasting shift in society a shift that could be reflected in the outcome of a general election held 20 December 2015. Unemployment is falling but is still at nearly 24 percent, with around half of young people out of work. Also, families are regularly being evicted from their homes for failing to keep up mortgage payments.

The slump and a rise in poverty have shone a harsh light on long-standing cronyism in business and political circles and the inadequacies of a slow justice system. At the same time, corruption scandals eroded faith in both the ruling center-right People's Party (PP) and the opposition Socialists, helping the rise of new parties from the market-friendly Ciudadanos to the leftist Podemos.

With a reported estimated 40 percent of undecided electors up for grabs and demands from many dissatisfied voters fed up with the country's long-standing bipartisan system, the Spanish campaign has turned into one of the dirtiest in recent memory. The candidates of the four parties leading in the polls have stepped up their personal attacks against each another, while ignoring discussions about the promises they made at the start of the race.

Results of a poll conducted by Spanish daily El Pas showed that the PP will win with 25.3 percent of the vote in contrast with the 21 percent the PSOE is expected to receive. Podemos and Ciudandos are close behind the Socialists with about 19 percent and 18 percent respectively.

According to the most recent GESOP poll, the Peoples Party was expected to be supported by 25.8 percent of voters and take 107-111 seats some 75 less than it conquered in the previous composition of the parliament. The Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, its traditional rival, goes second with 21.4 percent of supporters (84-88 seats), losing over 7 percent and over 20 seats. Left-wing Podemos ("We Can") party founded in 2014 could finish third with 20.4 percent of voters to take 71-75 seats. Part of its platform calls for renegotiating unpopular austerity measures mandated to pay back EU debts. Another first-timer, the Ciudadanos (translated as Citizens) center-left movement was expected to take 16 percent or 50-54 seats. The Spanish United Left-Popular Unity coalition, openly opposing the country's membership in NATO, that currently has 11 seats after winning 6.9 percent in 2011 is expected to come fifth and take 2-4 seats with 3.8 percent of votes.

Podemos and Ciudadanos were vying for third place to become kingmakers in post-election talks. That prediction made any of three outcomes possible: either a right-wing or left-wing coalition government or a minority administration. The most likely outcome would be a coalition government between the PP and Ciudadanos.

Some analysts believed that secret agreements had already been made between PSOE, Ciudadanos and Podemos for a super tripartite to keep the PP from retaining power. Others believed that the PP and Ciudadanos could pair off, with the new conservative grouping remaining in the background and not joining the Rajoy government, but instead pressuring him for reforms from the sidelines.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would consider a cross-party pact to ensure a stable administration over the scheduled four-year term, but all the main opposition parties have come out against joining the PP in a coalition.

Spaniards went to the polls 20 December 2015 to elect a new government. Progressive, left-wing party Podemos (We Can) was fourth in the polls, although leader Pablo Iglesias' appeal surged in the hours after he was deemed to have won a debate 14 December 2015. During the debate, the Podemos leader vowed to hike taxes from financial assets like bonds and derivatives. He also vowed to seek to impose a solidarity tax on banks propped up by taxpayer funds in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Although the latest opinion polls showed the incumbent Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the PP as front runners, the votes were fragmented between all four parties, meaning a coalition government of competing rivals will be the likely outcome of the election.

The ruling Conservative Party won the most votes in the parliamentary polls, but a strong showing from two new opposition parties nonetheless threatened its grip on power. With nearly all votes counted, the conservative Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy won 123 seats in the 350-member parliament - a tally far below the 186 majority it previously held. Rounding out the top four was the centrist Ciudadanos with an expected 40 seats. The conservatives would have a hard time forming a government with only 163 seats, since the centrist Ciudadanos didn't win enough seats for the Popular Party to get a 176 seat majority by allying with it.

The Socialists, who came second with 90 seats, ruled out working with Mariano Rajoy in a grand coalition, the only way the Popular Party (PP) could continue to govern the country.

The far-left Podemos party, which had only been around since 2014, managed to come in third with a projected 69. A bloc of leftist parties, including Socialists, the anti-austerity Podemos Party, a former communist party and two smaller groupings would jointly hold 175 seats, half the total seats. But with the PSOE forming part of 'la casta' establishment that Podemos had railed against so intensely, it could damage their credibility to enter into such a power-sharing arrangement too quickly.

Minor parties gained 26 seats. The coalition of ERC-CATSI Republican Left of Catalonia (Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and Catalunya platform Yes) headed by Gabriel Ruffian, managed nine seats, 2.39% of the vote (599,289 votes) in the general elections of 2015, triple the result obtained in 2011. The other Catalan nationalist parties, DL [Democracy and Freedom] received 8 seats, while the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) took 6, and the Canary Coalition (CCA-PNC) took 1 seat. Unit Popolare, the historic left, almost erased by Podemos, had its approval halved and took 2 seats compared to 11 in the previous election.

A German-style grand coalition of the PSOE and PP would be the only two-party partnership to secure a majority government. But having divided Spain along the lines of the Spanish Civil War it is hard to fathom such a teaming up, and the alliance would serve to alienate large segments of the PSOEs base.

Mariano Rajoy, whose conservative Popular Party won the most seats in the parliament, and would have the first opportunity to try to form a government. His candidacy would be put to the vote in the 350-seat congress and he will be sworn in if he was backed by an absolute majority of MPs voting. If that failed then a second vote would be held two days later. If the parties fail to come to an agreement before the two-month deadline between the first parliamentary session and the election of the president, the Spanish king can dissolve parliament and declare new elections. If no government was formed then new elections will have to take place by March 15th.

Prime Minister Rajoy urged Spains centrist parties, PSOE and Ciudadanos, to form a three-party coalition government with his party, which would represent 250 seats in Congress. If the PSOE and Ciudadanos could be persuaded to abstain in the vote of confidence then Rajoy could just about find himself able to take office. But that would mean that the PP would have to negotiate on every single parliamentary measure, and there would be increased likelihood of elections being called early anyway. And even if there is a loose coalition or even a minority government, it may not be stable enough to last.

Spain has been politically paralyzed since its national election on Dec. 20 that saw the entry of Podemos and Ciudadanos as strong No. 3 and No. 4 parties following decades of alternating rule between the Popular Party and the Socialists. Little progress had been made by mid-January 2016.

The majority of Spaniards did not want a repeat election, despite the fact the four main parties were struggling to form a coalition government after the last Dec. 20 vote, according to a public poll. The survey, conducted between Jan. 12 and 14, 2016 by Spanish polling firm Metroscopia, showed 61 percent of respondents would rather the parties forge cross-party alliances to form a functional government. By contrast, 33 percent said they would like to see another election. If that were to happen, Metroscopia said the upstart Podemos could usurp the social democratic PSOE party and finish second. However, the conservative Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would still place first, though it would still fall short of the 176 seats in parliament required for an absolute majority, thus still needing a coalition partner.

On 02 February 2016 King Felipe VI has nominated socialist leader Pedro Sanchez to lead the country, one month after polls took place. Prime Minister Rajoy spoke to the king and told him that his conservative Popular Party did not have enough backing from other groups to establish a stable government.

The head of Spain's Socialists said 12 February 2016 he would not form a coalition with the People's Party. Pedro Sanchez met the PP's Mariano Rajoy for talks after elections in December left no clear route to a government. Talks between Mariano Rajoy, of the right-wing People's Party, and his main rival, the Socialist Pedro Sanchez ended with no news on how a government might look. King Felipe VI asked Sanchez to form Spain's next government after Rajoy passed on the task when the 2015 parliamentary elections left his PP with no natural partner.

Socialist leader Sanchez, however, said he would not change his preference for a center-left coalition with Podemos. Such an alliance remained out of reach. Sanchez wanted to form an alliance of "progressive forces" that would include Podemos' 65 seats and the two seats of the United Left. Such a coalition would also need the support of tiny Basque and Catalan nationalist parties to survive a confidence vote if they lost the backing of Ciudadanos.

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos, said he would only start talks with the Socialists if Sanchez were to abandon talks with the Ciudadanos, which won 14 percent in December 2015.

After weeks of political deadlock, acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said on 18 Februry 2016 that Spain will "most likely" schedule new elections for June. Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez called Rajoy's comments "pitiful." Rajoy said"We have an investiture ceremony in March, and I believe it will not work out".

High-ranking Podemos member Inigo Errejon said on 24 Februry 2016 that his party would suspend talks with the Socialists about forming a coalition government, the same day the announcement of the deal was originally made. The source of contention was the Socialists' announcement that they had secured backing for the government pact from centrist party Ciudadanos, which Errejon said would prevent "the possibility of forming a pluralistic government of change."

The parties had two months from the 20 December 2015 election to form a new government. A failure to do so would result in a new snap election. A parliamentary vote of confidence was scheduled for early March 2016. Spanish Socialists lost the bid to make the partys leader Pedro Sanchez the next prime minister, receiving only 131 favorable votes in the Congress of Deputies, the 350-member lower house of the Cortes Generales. The countrys political parties now have two months to try and form a new government. In case of failure, a national election will be held on June 26 for the second time in a year.

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