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Focus: Sánchez ‘rollercoaster’ and Spain’s ‘political instability’

Eight months after ousting his rival and taking power in Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has been forced to call early elections for 28 April, the latest in a series of setbacks for the survivor politician.

The move comes just days before the 46-year-old economist publishes a book called ‘Resistance Manual,’ the first leader in office to do so.

The book recounts the rollercoaster years that saw him lead the socialists to two crushing election defeats in 2015 and 2016, forced out by his party’s leadership before being re-elected secretary-general by grassroot activists in May 2017.

Just over a year later, he filed a no-confidence motion against then conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy – a risky bet given the socialists had just 84 lawmakers out of 350.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez arriving at the Llotja de Mar in Barcelona where a Spanish cabinet was held on 21 December 2018. (Javier Soriano / AFP)

But with the help of far-left Podemos, Catalan independence lawmakers and Basque nationalists, he was able to topple Rajoy and take over, the first time such a motion had prevailed in decades.

‘From attack to defence’

Given the 1.90-metre-tall former basketball player’s track-record of bouncing back, all bets are off for the upcoming elections on 28 April.

Sánchez ‘sees politics as a basketball game,’ writes Enric Juliana, deputy director of Spanish daily La Vanguardia.

‘He can go from attack to defence in just a few seconds.’

Always immaculately suited and booted and with a disarming smile, Sánchez was once dubbed ‘Mr. Handsome’ for his Hollywood good looks.

Born in 1972 in Madrid, he grew up in a wealthy family, his father an entrepreneur and his mother a civil servant.

He studied in the Spanish capital before getting a Master’s degree in political economy at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.

He then wrote a thesis in a private Madrid university over which he was later accused of plagiarism.

An opposition town councillor in Madrid from 2004 to 2009, he entered parliament, replacing another lawmaker, under Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero‘s administration.

That ended when the conservative People’s Party (PP) swept to power in 2011 with an absolute majority, kicking the struggling Socialists (PSOE) out of power.

But he returned to the lower house in 2013. He went on to become Socialist party chief the next year after winning the first every primary elections organised by the 139-year-old grouping.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during the budget debate in Madrid on 13 February 2019. (Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP)

Catalan hot potato

Once in power in Spain in June 2018, he appointed a government with a majority of women.

He also drew praise in Europe for accepting to take in a charity ship stranded in the Mediterranean with 630 migrants on board after Italy and Malta refused to let it dock.

He also raised the minimum wage by 22% after years of austerity.

But he has so far failed to complete one of his pet projects – to exhume late dictator Francisco Franco from an opulent mausoleum near Madrid.

ALSO READ: Sánchez: Franco mausoleum cannot be ‘place of reconciliation’

Sánchez also got embroiled in the hugely cleaving issue of the secession crisis in Catalonia.

Determined to re-start talks with separatists of this northeastern region after a failed attempt to secede from Spain in 2017, he ended up losing their crux support in the national parliament this week.

ALSO READ: Sánchez a ‘felon, illegitimate, traitor’ for Catalan ‘rapporteur’

Catalan lawmakers, along with right-wing parties, rejected his 2019 budget, which prompted the early elections.

And while several opinion polls see his Socialist party winning elections, it would likely not be able to form a majority in parliament with Podemos.

But polls say the PP, centre-right Ciudadanos (Cs) and far-right Vox would be able to form a majority.

ALSO READ: Far-right Vox forms agreement with PP

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (centre) poses with ministers before a cabinet meeting at the Llotja de Mar in Barcelona on 21 December 2018. (Javier Soriano / AFP)


The elections on 28 April will be Spain’s third general election in three and a half years.

Spain has since December 2015 been suffering chronic political stability because of an increasingly fragmented political landscape.

Here are some key dates:

20 December 2015: Two-party hegemony shatters

Since the early 1980s, power in Spain had alternated without interruption between the Socialists (PSOE) and the conservative People’s Party (PP). But 20 December 2015 put an end to over three decades of two-party hegemony when two new parties, centre-right Ciudadanos (Cs) and far-left Podemos, entered parliament for the first time.

Prime minister Mariano Rajoy’s PP won the most seats but lost its absolute majority in Spain’s 350-seat parliament and was not able to cobble together a governing coalition.

Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists, which came in second but also lost ground, reached an agreement with Ciudadanos (Cs) but this too was not enough to form a government.

Due to the political impasse, fresh elections were held on 26 June 2016. The PP gained ground but still fell short of an absolute majority and political paralysis persisted.

29 October 2016: Rajoy sworn in for second term

Rajoy is sworn in for a second term as prime minister after winning a confidence vote in parliament, putting an end to a 10-month spell without a government.

He won the vote thanks to the support of Cs and the abstention of the Socialists. Weeks earlier, the Socialists ousted their leader Pedro Sánchez who had steadfastly refused to back Rajoy’s attempts to form a government.

Rajoy’s minority government managed to pass its budget in 2017 and 2018 by making generous concessions to a Basque nationalist party and regional parties from Spain’s Canary Islands.

Pedro Sánchez (left) shakes hands with Mariano Rajoy after a vote on a no-confidence motion on 1 June 2018. (Pierre-Philippe Marcou / POOL / AFP)

1 June 2018: Sánchez ousts Rajoy

Sánchez becomes prime minister, ousting Rajoy in a surprise no-confidence vote in parliament after the ruling PP was found guilty of benefiting from illegal funds in a massive graft trial.

Sánchez had been re-elected Socialist leader in May 2017, in a stunning political comeback just seven months after he was ousted.

Rajoy was the first prime minister in Spain’s modern democratic history to be ousted by parliament after losing a no-confidence vote.

Sánchez won the vote with the support of a hodgepodge of different formations, including Podemos, two Catalan independence parties and a Basque nationalist party.

Ciudadanos leader Abert Rivera labelled it a ‘Frankenstein government’ because of its lack of unifying views.

13 February 2019: Sánchez budget rejected

Sánchez, whose government had the smallest majority of any since the return transition to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, submits a left-leaning budget with Podemos which boosts social spending, in the hopes of governing until the end of the current legislature in mid-2020.

But the talks with Catalan independence parties, whose demand for a legally binding independence referendum is unacceptable to Sánchez, broke down and he fails to win their much-needed votes to approve the budget in parliament.

Catalan lawmakers joined those from the PP and Ciudadanos in voting against the budget, prompting Sánchez to call early elections.

Opinion polls suggest Spain’s political landscape will become even more fragmented, with new far-right party Vox poised to win seats in the national parliament for the first time.

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