MADRID (AP) — The leader of Spain’s conservatives failed Wednesday in his long-shot first bid to become the country’s next prime minister when he fell short of the votes he needed in the Spanish parliament to form a government.
As expected, Popular Party leader Alberto Núñez Feijóo came up four votes shy of the necessary absolute majority of 176 votes in his favor.
Feijóo will try again on Friday when the bar is lowered and he needs only more “yes” than “no” votes from parliament’s 350 lawmakers.
The Popular Party holds 137 seats in the Madrid-based Congress of the Deputies, the most of any party. But even with backing from the far-right Vox’s 33 lawmakers and two from small conservative parties representing Navarra and the Canary Islands, Feijóo only reached 172 votes in his favor to 178 against him.
Spain’s July 23 national election left the parliament highly fragmented with its legislators spread between 11 different parties, setting the stage for a difficult path to power for any party.
If Feijóo fails to win approval on his second attempt, acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez would get a shot at staying in the Moncloa Palace. The center-left Socialist leader would have to round up enough support of lawmakers from a group of competing leftist, regionalist and separatist parties from Catalonia and the Basque Country.
The parliament debated Feijóo’s bid to become prime minister for several hours on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning before the vote.
The debate, however, was dominated by the possibility that Sánchez is considering accepting demands from Catalan separatist parties that Spain grant an amnesty for hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who participated in a failed 2017 secession bid by northeast Catalonia.
Sánchez, who has pardoned several high-level Catalan separatists, has kept quiet on the possibility of an amnesty, and only said that he wants to continue “normalizing” relations with the northeast region where tensions have decreased in recent years.
But leading Catalan separatists have said that the amnesty is a real possibility, while also upping the ante by saying that an authorized referendum on independence should be granted by Sánchez if he wants to maintain their support during a theoretical new term.
“Nobody knows what is going to happen in this country if my bid to become prime minister fails,” Feijóo told lawmakers. “Therefore it seems reasonable, given that we are in a democracy, that the government not hide its deals. But they don’t even want to talk about them. Transparency and this government are incompatible.”
Feijóo’s path to power has been complicated by his party’s alliances with Vox, which denies climate change and rails against feminism, in several regional governments. Vox’s views on recentralizing power from regions to Madrid makes it anathema to many smaller parties representing regions.
Feijóo had claimed on Tuesday that he was close to becoming prime minister, but that he was not willing to pay the political price of an amnesty that the Catalan separatists wanted in exchange for their support.
But on Wednesday, the spokesman for the conservative Basque party PNV, Aitor Esteban, reminded Feijóo that if wanted their backing, Feijóo “would have to start with ditching the 33” votes of Vox. Esteban added that his party would prefer supporting a possible amnesty for the Catalan separatists, if it came to that, than a likely right-wing coalition of the Popular Party and Vox at the national level.
“There is a whale in the swimming pool,” Esteban told Feijóo. “The 33 votes of Vox are absolutely necessary for you and they would be for your entire mandate. That whale is so big it is impossible to hide.”
If no government is formed before Nov. 27, the parliament will be dissolved and a new election called for Jan. 14.
Wilson reported from Barcelona. Associated Press writer in Lisbon, Portugal, contributed to this report.