King Felipe of Spain Dissolves Parliament, Clearing Way for New Elections | WakaWaka Reporters
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King Felipe of Spain Dissolves Parliament, Clearing Way for New Elections

King Felipe VI of Spain signed a decree on Tuesday to dissolve Parliament and hold a rerun of national elections for the first time since the country’s return to democracy in the late 1970s.

The step followed months of political paralysis and discord over who should form a government after inconclusive elections in December. That election resulted in a fracturing of Spain’s political landscape with the emergence of insurgent parties that challenged the establishment, marking a sea change in the nation’s politics.

The repeat election is now scheduled for June 26, but opinion polls suggest that the outcome of a new vote could look much like the first, which split ballots among four main parties, with no single one close to a majority.

Turnout, however, could fall amid growing frustration about the intense but fruitless party squabbling.

Whatever the outcome in late June, Patxi López, the Socialist president of the lower house of Parliament, called on Tuesday for an electoral overhaul to tighten future deadlines for forming a government and to ensure that Spain does not spend so much time again in political limbo. He also urged party leaders to draw lessons now from their failure to break the deadlock since December.

 “We haven’t managed to fulfill the citizens’ mandate,” Mr. López told a news conference after meeting the king Tuesday morning. “I hope that these four months have served to understand a few things.”

The repeat of elections was virtually guaranteed a week ago, when Felipe’s final round of consultations with party leaders ended in failure.

Since then, the party leaders have instead opened a new round of mutual recriminations over who should be held responsible for leaving Spain without an elected government at a time of economic, social and political challenges.

Spain’s unemployment rate rose again slightly in the first quarter, to about 21 percent, according to figures released last week by the National Statistics Institute.

On Tuesday, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, also warned Spain about its budget deficit and soaring debt, as well as unemployment, even as the country’s economy continues to recover at about twice the growth rate of most other European nations.

Without additional budgetary tightening, Spain will most likely fail to meet its European obligation to lower its deficit below 3 percent of gross domestic product until 2018, according to the European Commission’s latest forecast.

The financial crisis exposed growing economic imbalances in Spain and also brought to the surface several corruption scandals involving kickbacks, mostly from the construction industry, paid to politicians from established parties during a property boom, which collapsed in 2008.

Such scandals helped two emerging parties challenge the traditional two-party system and alternation of power between the conservative Popular Party of Mariano Rajoy, the caretaker prime minister, and the main opposition Socialist party.

But after the Dec. 20 elections, the two newcomers — the center-right Ciudadanos and the far-left Podemos — also ended up in an acrimonious standoff that played a significant part in the overall deadlock that stalled forming a coalition government.

The latest polls indicate that the Popular Party will once more win the most votes in June, but not enough to regain the parliamentary majority that it had until December’s elections.

Even though Mr. Rajoy’s party recently got entangled in more corruption scandals, particularly in the eastern region of Valencia, it could benefit from a low turnout, as the conservative electorate is seen as a more disciplined force when it comes to voting.

In fact, after turning down the king’s offer to try to form a coalition government in January, Mr. Rajoy has largely stayed on the sidelines of the negotiations — as well as the debating in Parliament. He and his ministers have refused to appear before lawmakers, while openly questioning the legitimacy of an assembly that did not elect the government and was in any case likely to be short-lived.

Since the elections, Spain’s main party leaders have not only failed to form a coalition government but have also struggled to maintain their party stewardship.

In fact, “all the main parties except Ciudadanos face internal divisions that they will try to contain ahead of the vote,” Antonio Barroso, a Spanish political analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London, said in a recent analysis.

The turmoil in Spain comes as politicians in the northeastern region of Catalonia are forging ahead with plans to secede from the rest of the country.

The Spanish vote could also be affected by Britain’s referendum on whether to leave the European Union, scheduled for June 23, just three days before Spain’s new election, according to Antonio Roldán, a lawmaker from Ciudadanos.

Should British voters decide to leave the European Union, the shock waves would be felt across the 28-nation bloc, but perhaps particularly in countries like Spain that already face fiscal challenges and that were on the front line of the euro debt crisi, he said.

If Britain exits the bloc, “the countries on the periphery will look particularly vulnerable, and Spain will stand out as the only country without a government as well as a large deficit hole,” Mr. Roldán said. “This will be a very fragile situation.”