Pro-Catalan independence demonstrators hold banners reading in Catalan

MADRID (AP) — A general election called to end political deadlock in Spain has only deepened uncertainty about the future of the European Union's fifth-largest economy and raised the possibility of yet another ballot — the fifth in five years — next year.

No party achieved a clear mandate to govern in Sunday's vote, which was the second election in seven months and was intended to clear away the stalemate. Further weeks or months of political jockeying now lie ahead.

Incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's left-of-center Socialists captured the most seats, with 120. But that is far short of a majority in the 350-seat chamber, meaning the Socialists will have to negotiate deals with other parties if they are to govern.

The outcome also threw up a new roadblock: Support surged for far-right party Vox, which was launched just six years ago.

It collected 52 seats, more than double its showing in the last election in April, making it the third largest party in parliament behind the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party, which recovered to collect 88 seats.

Across Europe, far-right parties have made gains in recent years, setting off alarm bells about the bloc's political direction.

Some analysts put down Vox's rise to nationalist sentiment stirred up as a result of mass protests by separatists in the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia. The protests have included recent violent clashes with police that left more than 500 people injured.

The push for Catalan independence, which the national government won't allow, is Spain's most serious political issue in decades and shows no signs of abating. Three Catalan separatist parties won a combined 23 seats, one more than in April.

José Ignacio Torreblanca, an analyst and head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the Catalan separatists helped give rise to Vox.

"The one thing that the Catalans have achieved is to get a radical right equally as radical as they are on the other end, a kind of a mirror thing and with that make everyone's life more miserable," he said.

On Monday, Catalan radicals resumed their protests by blocking a major highway crossing the border between France and Spain and promising to keep it closed for three days. French police pushed them back toward Spain and scuffles broke out.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal said Monday that his party won't support a Socialist government and issued a warning: "We demand that order be restored in Catalonia."

Contemplating the election outcome and another fragmented parliament, many people on the streets of Madrid were scratching their heads Monday over what would happen next.

"I think we are worse than before: We are more divided," said Antonio Prados, a 44-year-old police officer. "I don't know, there's a possibility to form a government, but I don't know how they will come up with the numbers."

Andrew Dowling, an expert on contemporary Spanish politics at Cardiff University in Wales, said Sánchez's plan to reconfigure parliament to his benefit had backfired, leaving Spain once again at the mercy of an unpredictable political landscape.

"The Spanish Socialist party made a major miscalculation in calling new elections," Dowling said.

The next step will be for parliamentarians to select a house speaker in the coming weeks and then for talks between King Felipe VI and party leaders to begin so that one of them, most likely Sánchez, will be called on to try to form a government.

Sanchez was meeting with his party leadership later Monday. Party secretary José Ábalos said Sánchez will sound out other party leaders over the coming days and seek to form a government as soon as possible.

Ábalos said the Socialists would not build any coalitions with parties on the right, indicating it would seek support instead from other leftist groups and regional parties.

But Sánchez's closest political allies, the left-wing United We Can party, fell from 42 to 35 seats. Sunday's ballot also went badly for the right-of-center Citizens party, which captured just 10 seats in parliament, down from 57 seats in April. Party leader Albert Rivera quit Monday.

In all, 12 parties gained parliamentary representation.

Capital Economics, a London-based research company, said it expected no short-term economic difficulties after Sunday's vote because Spain's economy has remained healthy despite the past four years of political gridlock.

But it warned Monday that deep, long-term economic reforms are needed in Spain's labor markets and pension systems to keep Spain competitive.

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Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Associated Press reporters Helena Alves in Madrid and Felipe Dana on the France-Spain border contributed to this report.

Santiago Abascal, leader of Vox Party attends a press conference in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. The far-right Vox party is poised to become the country's third political force, more than doubling its presence in the parliament's lower house from 24 to 53 deputies only six months after its debut. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
French police officers cordon off the access as pro-Catalan independence demonstrators try to block a major highway border pass near La Jonquera between Spain and France, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Protesters following a call to action by a secretive pro-Catalan independence group have closed off both sides of the AP7 highway at the major transportation hub of La Jonquera between France and Spain. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Pro-Catalan independence demonstrators block a major highway border pass near La Jonquera between Spain and France, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Protesters following a call to action by a secretive pro-Catalan independence group have closed off both sides of the AP7 highway at the major transportation hub of La Jonquera between France and Spain. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Spain's caretaker Prime Minister and socialist candidate Pedro Sanchez arrives for a Socialists executive board meeting at party headquarters in Madrid, Spain, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Spain looked set Monday to face political uncertainty for many more months after the country's fourth elections in as many years further complicated an already messy political situation. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Two nuns shelter under umbrellas while walking past a basque nationalist campaign cartel, center, the day after the general election, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Spain looked set Monday to face political uncertainty for many more months after the country’s fourth elections in as many years further complicated an already messy political situation.  (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
FILE - In this Nov. 1, 2019, file photo, Spain's caretaker Prime Minister and socialist candidate Pedro Sanchez applauds socialist followers during a general election campaign rally in Pamplona, northern Spain. Sanchez's Socialists won Spain's national election on Sunday but large gains by the upstart far-right Vox party appear certain to widen the political deadlock in the European Union’s fifth-largest economy. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos, File)
Conservative Popular Party leader Pablo Casado appears outside the party headquarters after the announcement of almost 100 per cent of the general election results in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. Spain's Interior Ministry says that results show Socialists winning Spain's national election, but without a clear end to the country's political deadlock. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Santiago Abascal, leader of far-right Vox Party, waves to supporters as fireworks go off outside the party headquarters after the announcement of the general election first results, in Madrid, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. Celebrating the 52 seats won in the parliament's lower house, more than double than the 24 it received in April, Abascal vowed to use Vox's position as Spain's third political force to hardened policies against illegal immigration, laws against abortion and the crack down on separatists in Catalonia and elsewhere. (AP Photo/Andrea Comas)
Spain's Prime Minister and Socialist Party leader Pedro Sanchez gestures to supporters outside the party headquarters following the general election in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Nov.10, 2019. Spain's Interior Ministry says that early results show Socialists winning Spain's national election, but without a clear end to the country's political deadlock. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
A man reads a newspaper at a newsstand in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Spain looked set Monday to face months more of political uncertainty after the country's fourth elections in as many years further complicated an already messy political situation, giving no party a clear mandate to govern while the far right became a major parliamentary player for the first time in decades. The newspaper headline reads in Spanish:
Pro-Catalan independence demonstrators block a major highway border pass near La Jonquera between Spain and France, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Protesters following a call to action by a secretive pro-Catalan independence group have closed off both sides of the AP7 highway at the major transportation hub of La Jonquera between France and Spain. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Pro-Catalan independence demonstrators block a major highway border pass near La Jonquera between Spain and France, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Protesters following a call to action by a secretive pro-Catalan independence group have closed off both sides of the AP7 highway at the major transportation hub of La Jonquera between France and Spain. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Pro-Catalan independence demonstrators block a major highway border pass between France and Spain near La Jonquera, Girona, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. Protesters following a call to action by a secretive pro-Catalan independence group have closed off both sides of the AP7 highway at the major transportation hub of La Jonquera between France and Spain. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)