Voting begins in Socialist bid to form Spain government

By the Associated Press | March 2, 2016 | 1:55 PM EST

Spain's Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez addresses lawmakers during the first of the two day investiture debate at the Spanish parliament in Madrid, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Sanchez is hoping to persuade a majority of parliamentary deputies to back his bid to form a new government, but the lack of support from other parties suggests he won't be successful. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

MADRID (AP) — Spain's members of parliament started voting Wednesday night on Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez' bid to form a new government, two months after the country held inconclusive elections.

The roll call vote was expected to take at least an hour but Sanchez was virtually guaranteed defeat after parties commanding 192 seats in the 350-seat parliament confirmed they would vote against him.

Sanchez needs at least 176 votes to form a government but only has his party's 90 votes plus 40 from the centrist Ciudadanos party.

The conservative Popular Party run by acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and the far-left Podemos party said they would vote against Sanchez' effort. If Sanchez loses, a second vote on his candidacy will be held Friday.

Rajoy told a session debating the candidacy that Sanchez's government plans were a joke and said all of his party's 123 deputies would vote against the Socialists, who came in second in the Dec. 20 election and behind Rajoy's party.

Pablo Iglesias, leader of the newcomer Podemos group with 69 seats, said his lawmakers would also vote against Sanchez because they did not believe the Socialists would lead a bonafide leftist government.

Sanchez was pushing to win the backing of Podemos, but it demanded that the Socialists break first with the business-friendly Ciudadanos.

Sanchez has another chance Friday in a second round with different winning rules in which he must get more votes for him than against him. That's a lower bar which allows parties to abstain, letting a rival into power in return for concessions.

The Popular Party, which has run the country since 2011, came in first in the election, but lost the strong majority it had in parliament mainly on account of voter disillusionment with their anti-crisis austerity measures and links to myriad corruption scandals.

Rajoy, who now presides over a caretaker government, said he could not form a government because he lacked sufficient support.

If Sanchez fails to win either vote, Parliament has two months to try to choose a government or face new elections June 26.

A governing alliance of parties excluding the first-place winner has never happened nationally in Spain. The election shattered Spain's traditional two-party system, with the upstart Podemos and Ciudadanos parties coming in third and fourth.