Spain’s Socialists have won the country’s fourth general election in as many years, with 99% of the votes counted.
The election was called by interim Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who won the most votes in the last ballot in April but failed to gain enough parliamentary support to form a government.
On Sunday, the party won 120 seats, down three since the last election and a long way from the 176 required to govern alone.
Image: Mr Sanchez was among the first to cast his vote
But the big winner of the day was the right-wing Vox, which is led by 43-year-old Santiago Abascal and only entered parliament for the first time earlier this year.
Vox increased its numbers of seats from 24 to 52 on an electoral platform that included being tougher on Catalan separatists and migrants.
The achievement, described by Mr Abascal as “the greatest political feat seen in Spain”, makes it the third-largest party in the Congress of Deputies.
Mr Abascal added: “Just 11 months ago, we weren’t even in any regional legislature in Spain. Today we are the third-largest party in Spain and the party that has grown the most in votes and seats.”
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Image: Dealing with the Catalonia independence dispute has been a focus of the contending parties
The mainstream conservative Popular Party won 87 seats, up from April’s historic low of 66 but the centre-right Citizens Party won just 10 seats – well down on its April tally of 57.
The Citizens Party’s failure came after its leader Albert Rivera refused to help the Socialists form a government and tried to use some of Vox’s hard-line policies.
Mr Sanchez’s chances of staying in power now rest with the United We Can party and several regional parties.
After his party’s win, he called on his opponents to be “responsible” and “generous” in ending the deadlock.
He added: “We extend this call to all the political parties except those that… plant the seeds of hate in our democracy.”
United We Can’s leader Pablo Iglesias said: “These elections have only served for the right to grow stronger and for Spain to have one of the strongest far-right parties in Europe.
“The only way to stop the far-right in Spain is to have a stable government. We again extend our hand to Pedro Sanchez.”
Image: The right-wing Vox party, led by Santiago Abascal, was the big winner of the election
However, Vox, the Popular Party and Citizens Party have worked together to win many city and regional governments this year – an alliance they could use to keep Mr Sanchez out of power.
Pablo Casado said his Popular Party would “exercise our responsibility because Spain cannot continue to be deadlocked”.
After spending almost 40 years in the grip of a right-wing dictatorship under General Francisco Franco, Spain used to pride itself on claiming no far-right group had seats in the national parliament.
The Socialists’ victory in April was seen by many as something of a respite for Europe after right-wing parties had gained much ground in countries such as France, Hungary, Italy and Poland.
Source : Sky News