Spain's Socialist party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez (front L) is applauded by party members after delivering a speech during an investiture debate at parliament in Madrid, Spain August 31, 2016.
Andrea Comas—REUTERS
August 31, 2016 5:34 AM EDT

MADRID, Aug 31 (Reuters) – Spain’s Socialists will vote against the government of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in a confidence vote on Wednesday, party leader Pedro Sanchez told parliament, potentially triggering the countdown to a third national election in a year.

Spain has been without a functioning government since inconclusive elections in June and December and parties are under pressure to end a political deadlock which has stalled investment and cast a pall over an economic recovery.

But, on Wednesday, Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the opposition Socialists, which trailed Rajoy’s centre-right People’s Party (PP) in both elections, has steadfastly refused to back Rajoy who needs his party’s support to form a coalition.

“I will be very clear, the Socialist party will vote against your candidacy to the government for coherence and for the good of Spain,” Sanchez told the parliament on Wednesday.

The PP is six seats short of the absolute majority of 176 seats it needs in the first investiture vote, even with the support of liberal party Ciudadanos, which was agreed on Sunday, and with the one extra seat from a minor Canary Islands party.

If Rajoy loses Wednesday’s vote, a second vote will take place on Friday in which delegates can abstain. He need a simple majority only in that vote to allow him to form a government.

The PP would need just 11 abstentions to win this second vote, but a loss is also likely if the Socialists do not cede. Such a loss for Rajoy’s PP in the second vote would trigger a two-month window to form a government at the end of which another election would be called, possibly on Christmas Day.

“It is difficult to think of something that could cause more damage to Spanish democracy than to tell people that their vote has been useless on two occasions and they have to repeat elections for a third time,” Rajoy told parliament on Tuesday.

He said he wanted to form a government with broad support that would be able to safeguard Spain’s economic recovery, with growth rates now among the highest in the euro zone, and play a leading role in the European Union.

A loss in both votes this week would shift the focus onto regional elections on Sept. 25 in the Basque Country and Galicia where the Socialists hope to avoid a further erosion of support.

(Additional reporting by Angus Berwick)

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