Spanish voters bucked the populist trend when they swept Pedro Sánchez and his Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) to a comfortable victory last April. When all the votes were counted, PSOE had filled 123 seats in the Congress of Deputies – 53 short of a governing majority. Its gains came at the direct expense of the center-right People’s Party, which shed 69 seats from its 2016 tally owing to a far-reaching corruption scandal some have dubbed ‘Spain’s Watergate.’

With fellow left-leaning travelers in the Unidas Podemos party well-placed to bring their 42 seats into the governing fold, early coalition calculus appeared favorable for PSOE. But the actual negotiation process has been anything but.