Spain’s King Felipe on Tuesday asked the leader of the Partido Popular, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, to seek investiture as head of a conservative government after last month’s inconclusive general election.
Mr Feijóo does not currently have sufficient backing to win the investiture vote but insisted he had the right to try after his party won the most votes in the election.
If he fails, it would likely allow the acting Prime Minister and candidate of the PSOE, Pedro Sánchez, to make a bid to form a coalition government.
Like his PP rival, Mr Sanchez does not currently have sufficient support and will have to negotiate with small, independentist parties on whose backing he will have to rely.
Felipe’s decision triggers a two-month countdown in which an investiture must succeed before new elections are automatically called under the terms of the constitution. These would be held 47 days after those two months end.
The king conveyed his decision to the new Socialist speaker of parliament, Francina Armengol, after concluding a first two-day round of talks with political parties.
Earlier in the day, Mr Feijóo had expressed his willingness to be a candidate for investiture as prime minister "if the head of state so considers" after meeting with the king during the second day of consultations between the monarch and political parties.
Mr Feijóo said he has the endorsement of having been the most voted party in the general election.
Mr Feijoo said too that he had the support of Vox, UPN and Coalición Canaria, giving him the total backing of 172 MPs in a parliament in which the absolute majority is 176.
"I would be only four MPs away from the absolute majority," he said.
The leader of the far-right party Vox, Santiago Abascal, confirmed his support but conditioned it on the PP "not collaborating in any way with the sanitary cordon that is intended to be raised against Vox."
But Mr Sánchez said he believed his party "is in a position to gather the required parliamentary support" to re-establish government.
Mr Sánchez reminded the PP that investiture is not a "showcase procedure" and has said that the efforts of the conservatives are "legitimate" but "futile."
Mr Sánchez made it very clear on Tuesday, first before the King and then before journalists, that he sees no point in the PP leader undergoing a failed investiture session, but also that he will not oppose it.
According to Mr Sánchez, Mr Feijóo's attempt would be a "showcase procedure" and not a genuine investiture debate, which "has the sole purpose of gathering the necessary support" to be appointed as the head of the Government.
Mr Sánchez is already negotiating with the independentist parties to seek their support.
The PNV confirmed it had received the first call from the PSOE on Tuesday to seek its support.
“I have conveyed to the head of state my willingness to assume the responsibility and achieve the investiture," said the leader of the socialist party.