Spain PM Rajoy turns down king's offer to form new government
Spain's acting Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has turned down the offer of King Felipe to be the first candidate to try to form a government.
Mr Rajoy said he did not have the support to win a confidence vote in parliament, necessary to take office.
Earlier the leader of Spain's Socialists (PSOE) cautiously backed the idea of forming a "progressive" leftist government with Podemos (We Can).
December's election result was inconclusive.
Mr Rajoy's Popular Party (PP) won, but without a clear majority. Both the PSOE and Podemos (second and third in the election, respectively) have ruled out forming a coalition government with the PP.
King Felipe nominated Mr Rajoy to form a government on Friday after a week of talks with party leaders.
A fresh round of negotiations is due to start on Wednesday after the acting PM turned down the offer.
In a statement published by the PP, Mr Rajoy said he would continue to fight to lead the government but "right now I do not have the majority of votes in favour".
A future government must win a confidence vote in parliament in order to take office. Without parliamentary approval, the country would have to hold a fresh election.
Mr Rajoy said "the most important thing [for the country] is to give a message of stability".
Correspondents say the king is likely to ask the opposition PSOE's Pedro Sanchez to try to form a new administration.
It is the first time in 40 years that the monarch has had such an influential role after an election. For decades the PP and PSOE alternated in power, with secure majorities.
The former king, Juan Carlos, oversaw Spain's democratic transition after the death of nationalist dictator Gen Francisco Franco in 1975.
'Government of change'
Mr Rajoy's announcement on Friday came just hours after Mr Sanchez said he was open to an idea put forward by Pablo Iglesias, leader of left-wing Podemos, for a "progressive" leftist coalition.
Mr Iglesias earlier said he had told the king of "our desire to form a government of change with the Socialists and the United Left [IU]", and that he would seek the post of deputy prime minister.
Podemos politicians should also get the social policy, economy, defence and interior ministry posts, he added.
Mr Sanchez said reaching an agreement on policies must be the first step: "The logical thing is to discuss policies and then to discuss a possible government formation.
"Podemos and PSOE voters would not understand it if Pablo Iglesias and myself did not agree."
The PSOE says it will only consider a leftist coalition with Podemos if the latter drops its support for an independence referendum in Catalonia.
Between them, the PSOE, Podemos and the United Left would still fall short of an overall majority, having won a combined 161 seats in the 350-seat Congress.
Mr Iglesias says his priority is "social emergency" legislation to help families threatened with eviction and other socially vulnerable groups, such as poor pensioners.
Many Catalans want a referendum on independence but Podemos is the only one of Spain's major parties to back the idea.
There is speculation now that Podemos might give way to the PSOE on that issue, in order to reach a coalition government deal.