The leader of Spain’s opposition conservative party Alberto Núñez Feijóo has claimed victory in a snap election, but without the result he needed.
Even with the support of the far right, his Popular Party (PP) has fallen short of a majority in parliament.
The cheers at the rival Socialist camp were just as loud as Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez declared: “The reactionary bloc has failed.”
While both can claim success, Spain is left with an inconclusive result.
Parties will be reconvening to discuss the results on Monday.
PP official Borja Sémper said Mr Sánchez is the first person Mr Feijóo will call to ask him to agree to support the PP in forming a “solo government with specific agreements” – a request the Socialist prime minister is unlikely to agree to.
So what happens now?
As the leader of the party that won the most votes, Mr Feijóo will be invited by King Felipe VI to try to form a government. If Mr Feijóo declines on the grounds that he cannot muster enough support – as former PP leader Mariano Rajoy did in a similar situation in 2015 – the king may turn to Mr Sánchez.
If the candidate accepts the king’s invitation, he then has two months to secure a majority.
Failing that, new elections must be held.
Despite the inconclusive results, Mr Feijóo told cheering conservative supporters that it was now his duty to try to form a government.
“Spaniards know we have gone from being the second force to the party with the most votes,” he said, adding: “I hope this doesn’t start a period of uncertainty in Spain.”
But that is what Spain is facing. Because with far-right party Vox on 33 seats and Mr Feijóo’s PP on 136, they would be seven seats short of an absolute majority of 176 in parliament.
That is why Mr Sánchez’s Socialists and his far-left allies Sumar appeared happiest in the wake of the results.
“The reactionary bloc of regression, which set out a complete reversal of all the advances that we’ve achieved over the past four years, has failed,” he told supporters.One Spanish website, El Español, said that despite the PP’s victory, Mr Sánchez still had a chance of forming a government.
But those very slim chances would require going even further than before in securing separatist support.
He would also need the backing of a hardline pro-independence party, Together for Catalonia (Junts). On Monday, the party’s general secretary Jordi Turull said it would seek to use the result as a “window of opportunity” to achieve Catalan independence.
One of the few leaders who showed no sign of celebrating the result was far-right Vox leader Santiago Abascal. “It’s a day of concern,” he said on Sunday night.
Political analyst Iago Moreno said the far right blamed the conservative PP for “complicity in the demonisation of Vox”, seeing Sunday’s result as the beginning of a journey to a “second round” which could come by Christmas.
“We have not achieved our objectives to kick Pedro Sanchez out… There will probably be another election where we can make this happen,” Mr Abascal said.
While the Socialist leader and Sumar put on a show of unity in a TV debate last week, conservative leader Mr Feijóo was conspicuously absent, giving the impression that Vox was on its own.
But Vox voters did come out in force, backing Mr Abascal’s platform of anti-immigration and anti-feminism. Many saw him as their best hope of defending Spain’s traditional values.
Turnout topped 70% on Sunday, as voters sensed the importance of this rare mid-summer election. That was partly due to almost 2.5 million postal votes being cast, but polling stations were busiest in the morning before the heat took hold.
Vox remains the third biggest party, with the support of three million of Spain’s 37 million voters, but not significantly ahead of Sumar and with a big drop in seat numbers.