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Spanish king tasks Sanchez to form new government

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Madrid (AFP)

Spain's King Felipe VI on Thursday tasked acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez with forming a new government, a complex undertaking that involves negotiating with many diverging parties.

While they won a general poll in April and gained lawmakers compared to the previous term, Sanchez's socialists failed to secure a majority in parliament and will need the support of other groupings in a very fragmented parliament.

But despite the obvious horse-trading that entails, Sanchez is widely expected to get the backing he needs to start his second term as prime minister.

Without the necessary seats in parliament to form a majority, the conservative Popular Party, centre-right Ciudadanos and far-right Vox have already resigned themselves to being in opposition.

Sanchez was tasked with forming a new government after holding talks with the king, the Spanish parliament's speaker, Meritxell Batet, told a news conference.

The monarch has since Wednesday been meeting party representatives at the royal palace, is the norm after elections.

- 'Fragmented' opposition -

The 47-year-old's socialists won 123 seats out of 350 in the general election on April 28.

"He is profiting from the fact that the opposition is very fragmented, and can't organise any alternative majority," said Pablo Simon, a politics expert at Madrid's Carlos III University.

Still, negotiations with other parties will not be easy -- in all, 17 political groupings are represented in Spain's fragmented national parliament.

Far-left coalition Unidas Podemos, with its 42 seats, has already shown its willingness to back Sanchez back in the traditional parliamentary confidence vote that follows any general election.

But in exchange, it wants to enter a coalition government.

"What would be most sensible would be if there is a progressive coalition government in Spain... that guarantees political stability for the next four years," said Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias.

The socialists are not keen, preferring to rule alone in a minority government which would seek the support of other parties on a case-by-case basis when passing laws or reforms.

Even with the support of Unidas Podemos, Sanchez will still need other regional parties to get the majority he needs.

He will however try and avoid courting Catalan and Basque separatist lawmakers, which would likely lead to accusations he is putting the unity of Spain in peril.

Two weeks after municipal and regional elections, negotiations have already started at a local level and could also influence which parties decide to give their support or not.

No date for the vote in parliament to elect a PM has been set but it will likely be in early July, a parliamentary source said.

- Tough times ahead -

Once voted back into power for a four-year term, Sanchez will not be out of the woods.

Right-wing parties have promised intense opposition and he still has the thorny issue of Catalonia's independence movement to contend with.

The high-profile trial of 12 separatist leaders, which is expected to end on June 12 and reach a sentence later in the year, promises to be particularly difficult to manage.

Tried for their role in a failed attempt to prise Catalonia from Spain in October 2017, the defendants face heavy sentences which would further harden the position of Catalan separatist lawmakers in the national parliament.

"It's a difficult climate, because the trial distorts everything," says Simon.

Since the start of the sensitive trial in February, separatists have increased gestures of defiance towards the socialists.

First they forced Sanchez to call early elections by refusing to vote for his 2019 budget in the previous term.

Then after the polls, they stopped a politician close to Sanchez from being named president of the Senate.

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