Spain election: Can Rajoy make new election victory count?

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Leader of the Popular Party (PP) and Spain's caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy blows kisses to his supporters at the PP headquarters during Spain's general election in Madrid on 26 June 2016.Image source, AFP
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A surprise gain for Mariano Rajoy in Spain's second election in six months, after the polls had suggested a win for the left

There were whoops as Popular Party (PP) leader Mariano Rajoy emerged on a balcony above, grinning broadly and blowing kisses.

"We have been through four tough years," Mr Rajoy admitted, referring to Spain's long and deep economic crisis. "But we're going in the right direction now, and we'll continue that!" he proclaimed to supporters gathered outside the party headquarters in upmarket Madrid hugging, cheering and waving Spanish and PP flags.

Spain went to the polls for the second time in six months on Sunday in an attempt to end the country's political stalemate. But the re-run brought no immediate relief.

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Sarah Rainsford reports from Madrid: "Winning is no use, unless the party can form a government"

The right-of-centre PP won the vote again, but without a majority, so wrangling over who can form a workable coalition has resumed.

It will not be easy but as the only party that increased its presence in Congress, gaining 14 seats, the PP feels it has a mandate to push harder.

Mr Rajoy's surprise gain on Sunday may well be down to the economy: a vote for continuity over radical change.

The shock decision by Britain to leave the EU had sent Spain's stock market plummeting a few days earlier and the Popular Party presented itself as a safe pair of hands.

It's likely that's also why Sunday's main loser, was Podemos.

Image source, AFP
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Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias (centre) had high hopes for another big win this time round, and teamed up with the old communists IU

The left wing party that emerged from mass anti-austerity protests had proclaimed its aim of leapfrogging over Spain's established Socialist Party, PSOE, to finish second in the polls.

Podemos teamed up with Spain's old communists, Izquierda Unida, in a bid to net up to a million more votes.

The grand plan then, had been to create what Podemos termed a "progressive coalition" with the Socialists.

"Spain needs this coalition," party leader Pablo Iglesias told journalists just after voting in a working-class neighbourhood of Madrid. He urged PSOE to work "shoulder to shoulder" with him, warning that even a couple more months under the Popular Party would be a disaster.

The pony-tailed professor had reason for optimism. His party polled over 20% of the vote last December, provoking a political earthquake in Spain where power had passed between two political mammoths - the Socialists and the PP - for decades.

Image source, Getty Images
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"United We Can" say their posters, but Podemos voters' hopes of the party joining a coalition may be dashed

Podemos voters were angry at a series of corruption scandals and lured by talk of ending austerity and a focus on "social justice."

But it was the Socialist PSOE, not the newcomers, who were confirmed as the key force on the left wing.

One commentator on a morning TV discussion show argued that Podemos had failed to beat the "fear vote". In the end, he argued, Spaniards worried about the implications for the economy and financial markets. Brexit may have increased that concern, he added, suggesting that the current climate was not ripe for radicalism or upheaval.

There is pressure to move on now and finally form a government, especially as Brussels is likely to demand progress on cutting the budget deficit, after going easy on a caretaker government.

"The problem is, Spain's political culture frowns upon coalitions. They think it's a betrayal of the electorate's will," argues journalist Miguel Murado. "No-one here wants to be king-maker, everyone wants to be king," he adds.

Image source, EPA
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Hugs all round at the Spanish Socialist Party, which emerged as the key force on the left

The Popular Party leader says he will talk "to everyone" to build a government, starting straight away with PSOE, although a Socialist party spokesman quickly insisted it would not support Mr Rajoy.

For months, PSOE and another potential partner, Ciudadanos (Citizens), have insisted that they cannot work with him, arguing that he is tainted by corruption claims against his party.

But PP supporters are hopeful that can change.

"I think they will go with Rajoy now and that will be good. Better for Spain," one woman holding her baby told me, as she celebrated the party's win.

"I think they will form a government now," Ignacio agreed, despite seeing no evidence of that over the past six months. "We are very tired," he admitted. "We don't need a third election."