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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nothing Plain for Spain In Post-Election Muddle

MADRID -- As the dust settles after an inconclusive weekend victory for the conservative Popular Party, or PP, one thing is clear: politics in Spain will not be simple again for the foreseeable future.

Sunday's election toppled the Socialists after 13 years in power but left the PP ahead with only 156 seats, 20 short of an absolute majority and completely dependent on the support -- if it can win it -- of Catalonia's Convergencia i Unio, or CiU.

With the new government not due to take office before early or mid-April, the conservatives now have to plead and argue for the CiU's support after spending their campaign criticizing it.

As the complexity of the situation dawned on a country led by pre-election polls to expect a clear-cut conservative victory, politicians and diplomats had little hope to offer.

"It's only going to get more and more complicated," said a diplomatic analyst. "They're going to sink into a permanent state of arduous, debilitating negotiations and petty deals."

Rodrigo Rato, tipped to become economy minister if the Popular Party can rule, said Tuesday he could understand the punishment inflicted by financial markets on the peseta and on Spanish bonds and forecast a protracted guessing-game for all.

"It will be a legislature of constant political negotiation," he told reporters.

Analysts shrugged off as premature comparisons that have already been drawn with Italy's almost permanent state of political crisis, but they said fresh elections could conceivably have to be held if the PP and its leader, Jose Maria Aznar, cannot strike some kind of deal with the Catalans.

The CiU, led by canny Catalan President Jordi Pujol, played powerbroker also in the last Socialist government after the 1993 elections when Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez lost his long-standing absolute majority.

It turned down Gonzalez's offer of cabinet posts and never went into a coalition, limiting its support to what it described as individual backing for specific issues, not a broad pact.

"If that's all the Socialists got, I can't see why Pujol would go any further than that with the Popular Party now," said a Western diplomat. "In the best of cases, Aznar is going to find himself in a situation similar to Gonzalez's -- always under the threat of Pujol letting go."

As Gonzalez found out to his chagrin last summer, that threat was very real. He was forced to call last Sunday's election more than a year early after Pujol withdrew his support, fearful of the fallout after a string of corruption scandals and charges that the Socialist government had engineered a "dirty war" against Basque ETA rebels in the 1980s.

The Catalans, who feel strongly about autonomy from the rest of Spain and full recognition of their linguistic and social identity, seem destined to remain the main powerbrokers in Spanish politics for a long time to come.

The confusion has marred some of the initial good feeling surrounding the Conservative victory, which some analysts had seen as a "coming of age" for Spanish politics, putting to rest at last the old divisions from the days of theoften-brutal dictatorship of Franco.