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Spain's Sanchez loses first bid to return as PM

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Madrid (AFP)

Spain's parliament rejected Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez's bid to be reappointed prime minister on Sunday, but he appeared on track to win a second confidence vote later in the week.

Sanchez needed 176 votes -- an absolute majority in the 350-seat assembly -- to be confirmed as prime minister for another term in Sunday's vote.

He lost the vote as expected, with 166 in favour, 165 against and 18 abstentions. One lawmaker did not attend the vote.

Sanchez will face parliament again on Tuesday, and this time he needs a simple majority -- more yes votes than no -- to be become premier for another term.

While the political math works in his favour after he struck a deal for the 13 lawmakers from Catalan separatist party ERC to abstain, the numbers still look tight. At the latest count Sanchez should win on Tuesday by a margin of just two votes.

Spain, the eurozone's fourth-largest economy, has been in political gridlock without a proper government for most of the past year after two inconclusive elections in April and November.

Sanchez's Socialists won the repeat November 10 polls but were weakened, taking 120 seats -- three fewer than in April.

He quickly struck a deal with hard-left party Podemos, which won 35 seats, to form what would be the first post-dictatorship coalition government, in Spain.

With the two parties' combined total of 155 seats still falling short of a majority, Sanchez has also secured the support or abstention of several smaller regional parties including the ERC to squeak by in a second vote.

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