Spanish political leaders meet King Felipe on Tuesday for a final round of talks to resolve a four-month-old political stalemate, but with a successful outcome unlikely, the stage could be set for a new election.
Political parties have been unable to form a new government since an inconclusive election last December, and with less than a week until a deadline to agree on a prime minister, Tuesday's talks are the last chance to broker some form of coalition.
After consultations with smaller forces Monday, King Felipe will meet with leaders of the four main parties in his third attempt to unblock the situation, culminating in a session with caretaker Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the center-right People's Party (PP).
Most leaders have already recognized they lack the support from rivals to secure a parliamentary majority, making it unlikely a last-minute candidate will emerge to try and lead a viable pact between parties.
FILE - Spain's King Felipe VI walks with Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, left, during the annual Pascua Militar Epiphany ceremony at the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, Jan. 6, 2016. Spain's king is meeting Tuesday with the country's political parties.
"The feeling everyone has is that there will be no surprises," Alberto Garzon, leader of the former communist party Izquierda Unida ("United Left") told a news conference Monday after meeting the king.
Felipe was keen to see the process through and try to seek a consensus, politicians involved in Monday's talks said, though they added that the monarch had already asked parties to keep the costs of campaigns down.
The rise of new forces such as anti-austerity Podemos ("We Can") and centrist Ciudadanos ("Citizens") after a deep economic crisis meant all parties fell short of a parliamentary majority in December, in the most fragmented result for decades.
The PP won the most votes and 123 seats in the 350-seat lower house of parliament, while the Socialists took 90, Podemos 69 and Ciudadanos 40.
The parties' failure to anoint a prime minister by May 2 — after a Socialist pact with Ciudadanos was rejected in parliament in early March — will automatically trigger a repeat election, likely to be held June 26.
But beyond Tuesday, parties will be running out of time to even hold the necessary parliamentary votes, bringing the process to a head.
Opinion polls have so far shown a new election would do little to resolve the deadlock, while politicians such as Garzon said they were concerned about a rise in abstention among frustrated voters.
Many leaders have already entered a pre-campaign mode, blaming each other for the impasse which could start taking its toll on the economy more noticeably if Spain remains without a government for many more months, according to analysts.
"I'm ready to fight for Spain once again," Rajoy told PP supporters at a rally Sunday.