MADRID: Spain's acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez looked all but certain to fail in a parliamentary confirmation vote later on Thursday after coalition talks with far-left Unidas Podemos collapsed, raising the risk of a repeat election.
Sanchez, who won an April parliamentary poll but fell short of a majority, needs Podemos to support him and at least one other smaller party to abstain to reach the simple majority required to be confirmed as premier by parliament.
Barring any last minute surprise, he seemed unlikely to be in a position to secure this.
The mood has changed several times over the past days, with Sanchez's Socialists and Podemos seeming at times very near to a deal, only to say they were close to breaking off soon after.
But just hours ahead of the vote they seemed further apart than ever, each making bitter comments about the other in morning radio shows rather than negotiating, following an evening of leaks and angry criticism.
Socialist acting deputy prime minister and chief negotiator Carmen Calvo told Cadena Ser radio that Podemos had not wanted to negotiate and had demanded too much power within the cabinet.
“They sought to get into the government without any respect for the Socialist position in the election … they literally wanted the government," she said.
If Sanchez loses the vote, Spain could face its fourth election in as many years — unless he makes fresh attempts to be backed by parliament in September, which senior Podemos lawmaker Ione Belarra hinted at.
Spain is struggling to adjust to an increasingly fragmented and polarised political landscape.
Belarra told RNE radio Podemos would not support Sanchez in Thursday's vote unless its conditions on various government posts were met, but remained open to negotiate “till the last moment".
“I hope they call us, our hand is stretched out," she said, explaining that after the Socialists told her party late on Wednesday they considered the negotiations had broken off, any resumption would have to be proposed by the Socialists.
The negotiations became deadlocked on the question of what role Podemos would play in a possible coalition government, which would be Spain's first in the modern era.
Belarra said there would be time to negotiate further until September.
Thursday's debate will begin at 1:30 p.m. (1130 GMT) with voting expected to take place at around 2:25 p.m., and much could still change before then.
Sanchez lost a first confirmation vote on Tuesday by 170 votes to 124, with 52 abstentions, after Podemos abstained and several regional separatist parties voted against him.
If defeated, Sanchez, who has little support among other parties, could be forced to call a repeat election in November.
Formed in 2014, anti-austerity Podemos previously backed Sanchez to rule in minority after the Socialist leader came to power when the previous centre-right government was ousted last year. They are now seeking to enter into government.
Podemos wants responsibilities on social policy, likely to include rent caps, an increase to the minimum wage and an increase in social spending across the board as well as changes in labour laws.
The Socialists and Podemos are close on political issues but differ on the question of Catalonia's independence ambitions, which in 2017 provoked a major constitutional crisis. Podemos has previously backed Catalonia holding a vote on its future relationship with Spain, something Sanchez rules out.
Three months of frequently acrimonious talks between the two parties suggest that, even if there eventually was any coalition government, it could be vulnerable to similar divisions.