Spain's Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez faces a confidence vote in parliament next week on whether to confirm him as prime minister, without having so far secured the crucial support of far-left party Podemos.
Sanchez has stayed on as premier on a caretaker basis since an inconclusive early general election in April. If he fails to win parliamentary support for another term, Spain could return to the polls in November in what would be its fourth general election in four years.
Sanchez's Socialists won 123 seats in the April election, the most by any party but short of an absolute majority in the 350-seat assembly. Spain's increasingly fragmented political landscape makes it harder for a single party to win a majority.
To succeed Sanchez needs the support of Podemos' 42 members of parliament as well as those of several other smaller regional parties.
Barring a last-minute surprise, Sanchez is likely to fail the first confidence vote on Tuesday when an absolute majority of votes in favour is needed.
His chances will be better in a second confidence vote on Thursday when he will require only a simple majority -- more "yes" than "no" votes.
But success is not guaranteed since Sanchez has failed to win the support of Podemos, the Socialists' most natural ally.
If Sanchez loses the second confidence vote, a two-month period would begin during which parties would have to resolve the stalemate before new elections would be automatically triggered in the eurozone's fourth-largest economy.
- 'Would not work' -
Podemos has since the beginning demanded that top party officials be part of a new Socialist government, a condition Sanchez refused.
Sanchez however softened his stance recently, saying Podemos could nominate some ministers with a more technical profile, but he refused to give Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias a cabinet post, citing policy difference on issues such as how to handle Catalonia's independence drive.
"A government which includes Iglesias would not work, it would be paralysed," Sanchez said Thursday in a TV interview.
Iglesias remained optimistic that an agreement was possible.
"You must be patient with the Socialist Party... I am convinced that they will end up concluding that the most sensible path -- and the only possible one -- is to negotiate a coalition with us," he said in a newspaper interview published on Friday.
The two parties have a rocky history.
Sanchez came to power in June 2018 after wining a surprise no-confidence vote against his conservative predecessor with the support of Podemos, Catalan separatist parties and Basque nationalists.
But back in 2016 Sanchez tried in vain to negotiate an agreement with Podemos to become premier. Podemos then voted against Sanchez in a confidence vote, triggering a general election.
- 'Game of dupes' -
Analysts say they did not think another early election is on the horizon.
"We can't rule it out but I think it is in no one's interest. One way or another, they will reach an agreement," University of Zaragoza political scientist Cristina Monge told AFP.
Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona said the threat of fresh polls was "more of a scarecrow, a game of dupes rather than a real will."
But "we could end up with new elections unintentionally, which would be a serious problem for (voter) confidence in the political class," he added.
Faced with this risk, Sanchez has urged right-wing parties to abstain from voting, which would facilitate his investiture during the second confidence vote. They have so far refused.
He wants to avoid at all costs having to rely on Catalan separatist parties to be sworn in. During his first term he was routinely accused of being held "hostage" to the separatists.