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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aznar Seeks Majority In Spanish Parliament

MADRID -- Spain's newly elected parliament held its first session Wednesday, but the conservative party hoping to lead the country's next government still faced weeks of bargaining before it can get down to business.

Foreign investors and Spanish political observers are betting that, after much wrangling, Popular Party leader Jose Maria Aznar will succeed sometime this spring in becoming prime minister.

The 43-year-old former tax inspector, whose party narrowly won the March 3 election, would be Spain's first conservative leader since the Union of the Democratic Center led the transition to democracy after dictator Francisco Franco's death in 1975.

The big unknown, however, is just how strong a Popular Party government would be if it must be propped up by the small, yet indispensable, Catalan nationalist party that Aznar and fellow conservatives are now courting.

Aznar won the support of the Catalans' Convergence and Union party on Wednesday in a vote to install a Popular Party deputy as speaker of the 350-seat parliament.

"A new era has begun and I have the feeling that those people who still had doubts about whether we'd won the election have shed those doubts now,"a beaming Aznar told reporters at a press conference following the vote.

However it will be trickier for him to forge an agreement combining the Catalans' 16 votes with the Popular Party's 156 in order to give Aznar an absolute majority in a confidence vote expected in April.

Parliament's official inauguration, marked by a speech by King Juan Carlos, is normally held five days after the speaker is chosen.

But the inauguration is likely to be postponed until Aznar and the Catalans try to reach an agreement.

Outgoing Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, in office since 1982, told reporters his Socialist party would not object to delaying the opening to give Aznar more negotiating time.

Convergence and Union, a pro-business party with a strong Christian Democratic wing, is considering a pact with Aznar based on greater self-rule for the northeastern Catalonia region and Spain's 16 other autonomous communities.

Aznar and the Catalans are also negotiating the blueprint for economic policy under a Popular Party government.

The Socialists also relied on Catalan support to pass legislation when Gonzalez lost his absolute majority in the last general election 1993.

The moderate Basque Nationalist Party, now with five seats, and the Canary Island party, with four, are also possible partners for Aznar's Popular Party.

The most radical of the regionalists, the pro-independence Herri Batusuna party linked to the armed Basque separatist group ETA, holds two seats but does not usually attend parliament. Its members did not participate in Wednesday's voting.