Move over Belgium, Spain has your record in sight.

After almost nine months without a government, Spain’s political stalemate showed signs of deepening on Wednesday, raising fears that the country may have to hold a third election in just one year. The country held a vote last December, and then a repeat election in June — but neither succeeded in producing a clear governing majority.

Mariano Rajoy, the acting prime minister and leader of the conservative Popular party, won 33 per cent of the vote in June, but has since struggled to win over rival parties for his bid to lead another government. Last week brought the first sign of movement, when the centrist Ciudadanos party signalled it was ready to back Mr Rajoy as prime minister, but only if his party agreed to six conditions, including anti-corruption measures and a reform of Spain’s electoral system.

Mr Rajoy promised to put the proposal to a vote in his party’s executive committee, which met on Wednesday amid growing optimism that a cross-party deal might be in the works. Spain’s veteran leader emerged from the gathering saying he had been authorised to talk to Ciudadanos, but stressed there had been no discussion about the conditions. Neither did he set a date to submit his candidacy for a vote in parliament — another key condition set by his prospective ally.

The latest manoeuvres are a setback to efforts to resolve the political stand-off. Should the stalemate extend into next year, for example because of a second repeat election, Spain could even challenge Belgium’s record of going without a proper government for more than 500 days between 2010 and 2011. Spain has been without a fully functioning administration for 241 days.

“This shows that Spanish politicians are still in a trench warfare scenario,” said Antonio Barroso, a political analyst at Teneo Intelligence, the risk consultancy. “Rajoy is trying to manage time and process. He is playing with the fact that a third election would likely benefit the Popular party. He thinks he has the winning hand.”

Mr Rajoy controls 137 seats in the Spanish parliament, which requires 176 seats for an absolute majority. The backing of Ciudadanos would give him an additional 32 seats but leave him still short of the requisite number. Analysts had speculated that a deal with Ciudadanos would put further pressure on the centre-left Socialists to abstain and so allow the Popular party to govern. But with no sign of change inside the Socialist party, Mr Rajoy appears to have decided to drag the process out for longer and slow any rapprochement with Ciudadanos.

He told a press conference after the Popular party meeting: “Ciudadanos took a step forward. The Socialists have until now not taken any step. Without that step it is not possible to move ahead with the vote [to formally elect a new Spanish prime minister].”

Asked about the Ciudadanos’s conditions, he made clear he had no intention to follow the lead of the smaller party, saying: “We can accept many things — or not.”

Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera is due to meet Mr Rajoy on Thursday. He made it clear in a tweet after the Popular meeting, however, that his party was not ready to dilute its conditions: “If Rajoy’s PP [Popular party] signs the anti-corruption pact and announces a date for the investiture vote we will open negotiations. If not, they will keep Spain blocked with their corruption.”

Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, meanwhile, on Wednesday reiterated that his party would under no circumstances support Mr Rajoy’s return to power. Without the support or abstention of Socialist deputies, the PP will not be able to form a government.

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