The Speaker of Congress, Patxi López (PSOE), was received by His Majesty King Felipe at Zarzuela Palace at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning to dissolve parliament and call a new general election in Spain for June 26, 2016.
The Royal Household confirmed His Majesty had just signed the document calling the new election.
This is the first time the King has dissolved parliament in the modern democratic period, after political parties failed to agree on a new Prime Minister more than four months after an inconclusive general election on December 20, 2015, at which no party won an overall majority.
It has been the shortest Spanish parliament since 1978 and polls again show no party is anywhere close to an outright win.
While some this weekend suggested a shift away from the PSOE towards Podemos and United Left, other polls disagreed. A few weeks ago, they hinted at a slight move towards a possible right-wing coalition between the Popular Party and Ciudadanos.
But the majority of results have been well within each poll’s statistical margin of error, and the poll of polls suggests the situation is much as it was last December: PP first, PSOE second, Podemos third, Ciudadanos fourth and United Left fifth.
The Spanish Constitution stipulates very strict, though long, periods of time that must pass between the different phases of the electoral process.
54 days must pass between the dissolution of parliament and election day. Last year, parliament was dissolved on October 27 and election day was December 20. Parliament was dissolved again today, Tuesday, May 3, which means election day will be Sunday, June 26.
The election campaign proper, despite months of wrangling and preening on TV, must last 15 days, and there must be a full “day of reflection” before voters go to the polls. Last year, the campaign began on December 4. Now Spaniards must wait until midnight on June 10 for the posters to go up.
The first session of parliament must then take place within 25 days. Last time, that was January 13. 25 days after June 26 is July 21.
But that will not be the end of it if the polls are right and no party has enough seats to govern alone.
Parties must agree on someone to become the new Prime Minister. This was the major sticking point in January and February, after Mariano Rajoy refused the King’s first offer. Eventually, Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez accepted a second invitation and the confidence debate—which he lost—took place on March 2.
While the Constitution stipulates a deadline date for the first session of parliament after a general election, no such stipulation exists regarding that first confidence debate in a possible new Prime Minister.
It could, again, take weeks, or months, this time with the long summer holiday threatening to complicate matters.
But that first confidence debate, when it happens, at least sets in motion the constitutional countdown clock for a new general election. Spanish politicians have two months to continue to try to appoint a new Prime Minister.