Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has announced a general election for 28 April – the third in less than four years, after his draft budget was rejected in parliament over the Catalan secession crisis.
The announcement was made after a special cabinet meeting this morning.
Sánchez took power just over eight months ago after he ousted his conservative rival, Mariano Rajoy, in a dramatic parliamentary no-confidence vote.
At the head of a fragile minority government, the 46-year-old has had to rely on the support of unlikely bedfellows in parliament, including the far-left Podemos party, Basque nationalist lawmakers and – crucially – 17 Catalan independence MPs.
On Wednesday, these groups joined right-wing lawmakers in rejecting his budget.
They withdrew their backing in protest at independence leaders being put on trial for their role in a 2017 attempt to break Catalonia away from Spain.
Budget Minister Maria Jesus Montero told Spanish radio that Sanchez would call elections on Friday and that they would take place this year, but gave no further details.
Sanchez’s socialists (PSOE) have already adopted a campaign-like tone, accusing Catalan separatists and conservatives of blocking a budget that included many social-spending measures.
‘The right wing in this country is trying to put a brake on the social progress of this budget and this government,’ Montero said after the budget rejection.
‘It’s trying to stop this country from moving forward,’ she added.
The government has also given the media a document promoting its short track record: from a rise in the minimum wage and restoring universal health care to financing measures against gender-based violence.
‘It’s the end of an atypical, turbulent term,’ said Paloma Roman, politics professor at Madrid’s Complutense University.
Sánchez has been savaged by the right-wing People’s Party (PP) and Ciudadanos (Cs) – and more recently small, far-right party Vox. Last Sunday, they called a big protest in Madrid to ask for early elections.
The People’s Party (PP) head Pablo Casado was scathing towards Sánchez after his concession, calling him ‘a felon,’ ‘illegitimate’ a ‘traitor’ and a ‘compulsive liar.’
One of their biggest bugbears has been the socialist government’s negotiations with Catalonia’s separatist executive as Madrid tries to ease tensions with the northeastern region.
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While Madrid says it initiated talks to try and find a way out of an ongoing crisis, the opposition has accused it of yielding to separatist demands merely to stay in power.
Several opinion polls see Sánchez’s Socialist party winning elections but likely unable to form a majority in parliament, even with Podemos.
Polls say the PP, Cs and Vox – which has surged recently thanks to its hard line against Catalan separatism – could be able to form a majority.
That would lead to a coalition government with the PP and Cs, formed with the support of Vox — which is what happened in the southern region of Andalusia after local polls there in December.
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‘Tensions between the central government and Catalonia are likely to increase in this scenario,’ said Steven Trypsteen, ING economist for Spain and Portugal.
The other scenario, he said, could be that the right-wing bloc does not get enough lawmakers to form a majority.
In that case, ‘political gridlock’ would be possible, he said.