Spanish parliament elects Socialist as speaker

Spain's parliament elected as its new speaker Patxi Lopez, who is from the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party and is a former head of the northern Basque Country regional government (AFP Photo/Rafa Rivas) (AFP/File)

Madrid (AFP) - Spanish lawmakers on Wednesday picked a Socialist as parliamentary speaker, in the first pact between rival parties still engaged in talks to form a government since last month's inconclusive election.

Patxi Lopez, a former head of the regional government of the northern Basque Country, was elected with 130 votes from his Socialist Party and new centrist party Ciudadanos at the opening session of Spain's new parliament.

He beat a rival bid by Carolina Bescansa, a lawmaker with new anti-austerity party Podemos, who got 71 votes.

His election marks the first time since Spain returned to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 that the speaker does not come from the party with the most parliamentary seats.

The conservative Popular Party (PP) of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy won 123 of the parliament's 350 seats in a December 20 general election, winning the most seats but losing its absolute majority.

The party, which is seeking backing from the Socialists and Ciudadanos for its re-election at the helm of a new government, abstained from voting for the speaker position, paving the way for Lopez to be elected.

Acting Health Minister Alfonso Alonso called the agreement to elect Lopez an act of "generosity and foresight".

The role involves mediating debates and heading up a committee that decides on the legislative agenda, in a position which is expected to carry more weight in a splintered parliament.

Earlier on Wednesday, Rajoy reiterated his call for a pact with the Socialists and Ciudadanos, declaring it could create a government that lasts fours years, could carry out "the reforms Spain needs" and "consolidate the economic recovery".

"It would be well seen outside of Spain and within Spain by economic and social forces," he added.

But Pedro Sanchez, the leader of the Socialists which came in second in the election with 90 seats, is still seeking an alliance with Podemos to form a left-wing government.

"Those who voted for Podemos and the Socialists would not understand if we did not reach an agreement," he told news radio Cadena Ser.

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