Spain is headed for its fourth election in four years, after King Felipe VI declared this week that none of the country's major parties have enough parliamentary sway to form a government. It's not in the least surprising: the last national vote, held on April 28th, yielded a result that was almost certain to trigger a repeat election. Yet by calling Spaniards to the polls again, probably on November 10th, acting Socialist prime minister Pedro Sánchez still won't gain the majority in congress that he's striving for. The question is, how long after November 10th will it be before yet another election is called?
Recent precedents in Spanish politics have demonstrated two things very clearly: first, that the traditional two-party democracy - which saw the Socialists and the Conservative Popular Party swapping comfortable majorities back and forth for forty years - is gone for good; and secondly, that Spain's leading politicians are incapable of forming coalition governments, even though they've had almost four years to hone the art of compromise.
The latest round of negotiations has almost been an exact reply of those that occurred after the general election of 2015, when leftist Podemos and centrist Ciudadanos broke onto the national scene. This is partly because now, as then, no single force has enough power to rule by itself, rendering cross-party talks an annoying necessity.
But it's not just a fractured political landscape that's causing Spain's governmental voids; the real problem is that its politicians have yet to place Spaniards' interests before their own.
Their paralysing inability to focus on cross-party similarities instead of differences will shortly be on display again, much to the delight of an exhausted, bemused electorate. Unless (and one can always hope) the lessons of the last few years have finally started to sink in.
Perhaps the only surprising thing about all of this is that Sánchez is hoping that the repeat election will increase his support enough to be able to govern without help. For a politician who has displayed sound pragmatism in other respects, that's somewhat idealistic: polls suggest that the upcoming vote might increase the Socialists' share of the national vote slightly, but nowhere near enough to enable them to rule without the support of other parties.
This means that Sánchez is likely to turn again to Pablo Iglesias, leader of the leftist group Unidas Podemos, in an attempt to secure support for a minority Socialist government.
He'd be much better off opening talks with Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera, with whom the Socialists would enjoy the almost inconceivable luxury of a parliamentary majority (providing Ciudadanos don't lose seats on November 10th).
That seems to be the best - or perhaps the only - way to break the electoral loop in which Spain is so firmly stuck.