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The speaker of the Congress of Deputies, Francina Armengol, has announced this Tuesday evening that Spain's king and head of state, Felipe VI, has opted for the leader of the conservative People's Party (PP), Alberto Núñez Feijóo, to be the candidate who will seek the confidence of the lower house for his investiture as new Spanish prime minister. This is what Felipe VI has decided after meeting with all the parliamentary political parties that wanted an audience with him in the Zarzuela palace, an interview which four parties - ERC, Junts, EH Bildu and BNG - did not take up. Thus, Felipe VI sends Feijóo to a vote that he has a probability of losing, given that the Galician is only guaranteed 172 deputies (PP, Vox, UPN and CC). On the other hand, even though Pedro Sánchez managed to achieve more than an absolute majority in last week's vote for speaker (178 votes), he only at present has the guaranteed support of 158 deputies (those of PSOE, Sumar and Bildu) for the investiture.

In a statement, the monarch argues that the "custom" is for the candidate of the party with the most seats in the election - which was the PP - to go first in trying to convince Congress to allow him or her to form a government. 

The royal palace's reasons for choosing Feijóo: "A custom"

It is not usual for the head of state to give explanations, but the exceptionality of the situation - in which two candidates have both put themselves forward to be new prime minister - has meant that the Zarzuela palace has justified why the first to be chosen is Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the bloc of the right. In the statement, it is pointed out that, since the entry into force of the current Spanish Constitution in 1978, "the candidate of the political group that has obtained the greatest number of seats has been the first proposed by His Majesty the King as a candidate for the prime ministership". For this reason, the statement continues, "this practice has become a custom over the years". After listening to the rest of the parliamentary groups in the interviews that have taken place since Monday, Felipe VI found that "there is not a sufficient majority for the investiture for this custom to lapse".

No date for the debate and the risk of voting at Christmas

In a brief appearance, the speaker Armengol, who did not confirm that it will be possible to speak in Catalan, Basque or Galician at the investiture session, stated that she has not yet decided the date for the first investiture debate. Provisionally, as she has said, her intention is to "call Mr Feijóo immediately to get his opinion on the best opportunity to hold the debate". "Once I talk to him, I will make the most appropriate decision", asserted the speaker of the lower house, who emphasized that "the most logical and appropriate thing" is to "see the reasons and preferences" that the candidate may have for setting a date for the start of the investiture process. Regarding this, Feijóo has stated that he wants to start a round of contacts with the parties next Monday to seek more votes.

In any case, even if the date is not confirmed, the arithmetical games have begun and, as well, the overall rules affecting the calendar are a crucial consideration. It is important to stress that the probable failure of the first investiture vote - since Feijóo has 172 votes, four short of an absolute majority of 176 - would activate the countdown for a repeat election: that is, from the moment of Feijóo's hypothetical failure after the two ballots he will be granted during the first debate, then Congress would have two months to find a candidate in which it has confidence. Otherwise, a general election would be automatically called 47 days after the end of the two-month period. And depending on the dates, there is the possibility that those elections will take place during the Christmas holidays.

There are many hurdles, but the truth is that, if Pedro Sánchez cannot articulate the majority he seeks, there is a risk that Spaniards will have to return to the ballot boxes as part of their Christmas activities. To avoid this there are two alternatives. That Armengol convene the first investiture session before next week, on Wednesday, September 30th, which would mean that, if the period of "two months plus 47 days" as set out in the Constitution were exhausted, the election would fall on December 17th. The other possibility is for Armengol to take it more calmly and call the first debate in the last week of September and, in this way, the election, should it be necessary, would take place in January after the long Spanish festive season is over, its last feast being that of Reis on January 6th.

End of the round of contacts

The monarch's choice of Feijóo comes after two days of a round of contacts between the political parties with Felipe VI, who for the first time has met two candidates who are both seeking the investiture. On the one hand, Pedro Sánchez appeared at the Zarzuela palace this Tuesday aware that the negotiation process is still in its early days, but he argued that he "is in a position" to "gather the required parliamentary support". The PSOE's obvious inspiration is the majority of 178 votes that it achieved to elect Francina Armengol, which, in his opinion, gives demonstrable evidence: "There is only one possible parliamentary majority, which is a progressive majority led by the PSOE".

As for Feijóo, after meeting with the head of state this afternoon, he discussed the arguments that, in his opinion, justify his decision to opt for the investiture. In line with the argument of the Royal House, he asserted that he is the candidate of the party with the most votes and that he currently has the votes of 172 deputies, "four short of an absolute majority". In this situation, he affirmed, "it is my duty" to make myself available to the head of state. Despite not being guaranteed a sufficient majority, Feijóo believes that "the Spanish deserve to know first hand the proposal of the most voted political party". And so it will be, but at the risk of the vote failing miserably.