Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has called an early general election for 23 July - a day after his Socialist party took a heavy battering in local and regional polls that saw big gains for the conservatives and far-right Vox party.
Prior to Sunday's routing, Sanchez had insisted he would ride out his four-year term with leftist government coalition partner Podemos (United We Can), indicating an election would be held in December.
But the outcome of Sunday's elections left his party so weakened he had little choice but to call a snap poll.
Sanchez said he had spoken to King Felipe VI and would hold a special cabinet meeting later Monday to dissolve parliament.
"I took this decision given the results of the elections held yesterday," Sanchez said in a televised address on Monday from the Moncloa presidential palace.
"Although yesterday's elections had a local and regional scope, the meaning of the vote conveys a message that goes beyond that. That is why, as both prime minister and PSOE's secretary-general, I personally take responsibility for the results."
Swing to the right
The local and regional elections saw Spain take a major swing to the right and made the leading opposition right wing Popular Party (PP) the main political force in the country.
In the municipal vote, the Popular Party won 31.5 percent of votes compared with 28.2 percent for the Socialists.
It marked a 1.2 point decrease for PSOE on 2019, but almost a nine point increase for the PP, which benefited from the collapse of the centrist Citizens party.
The PP won in seven of the 12 regions contested and dominated in several regions previously held by PSOE, including Valencia, Aragon and La Rioja.
"We have won a clear victory and Spain has taken the first steps toward a new political era," said PP leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo in a victory speech early on Monday.
The hard-right populist party Vox, that entered regional government for the first time in March 2022, also outperformed, securing 7.2 percent of the municipal vote.
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Despite big gains for the conservatives, PP will likely need Vox's support to govern in many areas.
Spain's regional governments wield huge power and budgetary discretion over education, health, housing and policing.
The woes for Sanchez and his PSOE party come as Spain is due to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 July.