Spain's Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday asked voters to hand his Socialists a clear majority in November's repeat elections, while Spaniards expressed anger and frustration at being asked to vote for the fourth time in as many years.
Sanchez announced late Tuesday that Spain was to return to the ballot box after he failed to secure the needed support to be confirmed as premier following inconclusive general elections in April.
Although his Socialist party won, it took just 123 of the parliament's 350 seats.
After five months of failed efforts to form a government, Sanchez said fresh elections were the only option, pointing the finger at rival parties on the left and right for failing to support him.
"I hope Spaniards will give the Socialist party a larger majority so you will no longer be in a position to block the formation of a government which Spain needs," he told party leaders in parliament.
He said a stable government is essential for dealing with issues including the slowdown in the global economy, Brexit and the ongoing separatist challenge in Catalonia where a failed 2017 independence bid triggered Spain's worst political crisis in decades.
- 'Thow them all out' -
On the streets of Madrid, there was anger, frustration and exhaustion at the prospect of yet another general election, the fourth since December 2015 when the traditional two-party system collapsed with the emergence of radical leftwing Podemos and centre-right Ciudadanos.
"Throw them all out and bring in some new people," said Juan Carlos Jurado, a 51-year-old who flits between part-time jobs and voted for the Socialists in April. "They haven't managed to reach an agreement and to rule the country, which is their mission."
"They are all to blame... and the Socialists have also played their part," said 59-year-old taxi driver Antonio Brasero. "They should be ashamed of themselves."
"They all have no shame, it's clear -- they're just not thinking about anything but their own position. They're not in the least bit concerned about the people," said Maria Angeles Alonso, 64, who spends her time caring for her elderly mother.
She voted for Ciudadanos in April but will not vote again in November. " I don't believe in any of them anymore."
Sitting in a cafe in the city centre, 70-year-old pensioner Pedro Garmendia said what worries him is the "growing disillusionment with politics" among the people.
Art student Ana Ortega echoed the sentiment, telling AFP: "I'm tired of all this. I don't know if I'm going to vote. It's like the people's vote is worth nothing."
- 'Very risky gamble' -
Although Sanchez is leading in the polls, he is hoping to reinforce his party's lead in the next election, which would give him a stronger hand in negotiations with any future partners.
"Sanchez's gamble is a very risky one. The big unknown in these elections is going to be participation because people are tired," said Cristina Monge, a political scientist from Zaragoza University.
Berta Barbet, a researcher at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (AUB) agreed.
"Polls are not very good at measuring (political) disengagement," she said. "It's very clear that the greatest frustration is among voters on the left."
Business leaders also expressed frustration over the political impasse.
"The spectacle we've been subjected to over the past four years is pretty pathetic," Antonio Garamendi, head of the CEOE business lobby, told Onda Cero radio station.
"It's a collective failure and at the end of the day it harms investment, it damages employment and it hurts exports," he said.
Unions, who had welcomed moves by Sanchez to increase the minimum wage, were also unanimous in their criticism of the crisis.
Unai Sordo, who heads Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), Spain's largest union, denounced the politicians' "irresponsibility" while Pepe Alvarez of the UGT said the left had "wasted a golden opportunity", warning that the situation could deteriorate further if turnout falls in November.
The Socialists had initially agreed, very reluctantly, to form a coalition with Podemos, but the party refused, saying the government portfolios on offer did not carry enough political clout.
Polls suggest the Socialists would win more seats in a repeat election but still fall short of a majority.