Spain's Popular Party backs Rajoy, defends Manuel Soria

Spain's acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has met with his Popular Party to plan a strategy after lawmakers rejected his bid to form a minority government for a second time, pushing the country closer to a third election in a year.

In a meeting Saturday, Popular Party leaders reaffirmed their backing of Rajoy as their candidate and continued blaming the Socialists, the second biggest party in Parliament, for the failed investiture.

Following a failed first attempt to form a government on Wednesday, Rajoy's bid was again voted down on Friday by 180 lawmakers against 170 in favor, as had been expected. Parliament now has until Oct. 31 to produce a government or a third round of elections will be called, possibly on Christmas Day.

But the Popular Party's intended message of unity was overshadowed by the government's decision to name former Minister of Industry Manuel Soria as a candidate for the executive director of the World Bank. Soria resigned from his ministerial post in April after being linked with an offshore company in the Panama Papers leak.

He claims he never ran or owned a Bahamian offshore company, although his name appeared in documents identifying him as the director of such a firm. Party Secretary Maria Dolores de Cospedal defended the government's decision to nominate Soria for the World Bank post, saying his experience qualifies him for the job and that he is innocent of the accusations stemming from the leak.

Albert Rivera, leader of the business friendly Ciudadanos party, has criticized Rajoy for allowing a former minister who resigned for "having money in fiscal paradises" to represent Spain at the World Bank. The World Bank has yet to approve Soria's nomination.

Ciudadanos recently signed a deal that included an anti-corruption agreement with the Popular Party and provided 32 of its lawmakers to vote in favor of Rajoy's two recent attempts at forming government.