Farewell Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s fallen Socialist chief

At the helm of the Spanish Socialist party for more than two years, Pedro Sanchez - or "Mr Handsome" as he is known - fell for repeatedly saying "no" to the conservatives.

Farewell Pedro Sanchez, Spain's fallen Socialist chief
Pedro Sanchez, known as El Guapo, resigned on Saturday. Photo: AFP

For months, the 44-year-old had been resisting overtures by acting conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to enter a coalition or let his minority government rule, as Spain was knee deep in political paralysis following two inconclusive elections.

But in the end, it was his own party that precipitated his downfall, with high-ranking members voting against his strategy Saturday after a bitter internal rebellion, arguing it was best to let a Rajoy-led government through rather than go to third elections.

Sanchez resigned on the spot.

The former economics professor was largely unknown when he took the reins of the Socialist party (PSOE) in July 2014 after winning the first ever primary elections organised by the 137-year-old grouping.

Always immaculately suited and booted, tall and with Hollywood good looks, the married father-of-two had pledged to revamp a party struggling to recover from former Socialist prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's management of the economic crisis.

'No is no'

Born in 1972 in Madrid, Sanchez grew up in a wealthy family – his father an entrepreneur and his mother a lawyer.

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

Politics, though, were always his passion.   

He was an opposition town councillor in Madrid from 2004 to 2009, after which he entered parliament as a lawmaker under Zapatero's administration.    

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

But he returned to the lower house in 2013 after the resignation of a lawmaker, and then went on to be voted in as Socialist party chief.    

In public, he likes to cultivate the image of a good family man with his wife Begona, a dazzling smile always at the ready.

But he has also shown an aggressive side — particularly where Rajoy is concerned, his “bete noire.”

This came to the fore in a televised debate with Rajoy last year before December polls.

“The head of the government, Mr Rajoy, has to be a decent person, and you are not,” he said, demanding to know why he had not resigned over repeated corruption scandals that had hit the PP.

And after two inconclusive elections in December and again in June, Sanchez steadfastly refused to back any coalition government led by Rajoy.   

“No is no,” he famously said, as the acting prime minister tried to approach him for a government deal.

On top of the corruption scandals, he accuses Rajoy of having deepened inequalities in Spain through severe austerity measures.   

Instead, he has rooted for an “alternative” government, turning unsuccessfully to centre-right upstart Ciudadanos and far-left Podemos to form a government.

A source close to Sanchez says he is actually wary of Podemos, a party that has made no secret of wanting to replace it as Spain's main left-wing force, and with whose leader Pablo Iglesias “he has never got along.”

Bad to worse results

But as the PSOE went from bad result to worse result – first in December elections, then in a June vote and finally in two regional polls last weekend – high-ranking members of the PSOE decided to rebel.

Sanchez has been criticised for keeping key party members in the dark about what was happening.

Thought to trust only a few close allies, he even ignored advice from former prime minister Felipe Gonzalez – a Socialist heavyweight – who then came out publicly against him.

Even the leading left-wing El Pais daily has rallied against him.    

“Sanchez has ended up not being a fine leader, but an unscrupulous fool who doesn't hesitate in destroying the party he has so mistakenly led rather than recognise his huge failure,” it wrote Thursday.

But Ignacio Escolar, founder of the left-wing online daily, rejected this.

“If Pedro Sanchez is really such a terrible, disastrous, pathetic leader as portrayed by those who once supported him, why don't they want to confront him in primaries?” he asked.

By Marianne Barriaux, Laurence Boutreux / AFP

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What the PP’s landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain’s ruling Socialists

A resounding win by Spain's conservative Popular Party in a weekend regional election in Andalusia appears to have boosted its chances in national elections next year and weakened Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

What the PP's landslide win in Andalusia means for Spain's ruling Socialists

The Popular Party (PP) secured 58 seats in Sunday’s election in Spain’s most populous region — three more than the 55 needed for an absolute majority. That constitutes its best-ever result in the longstanding Socialist stronghold.

The Socialists won 30 seats, their worst-ever result in Andalusia. It governed there without interruption between 1982 and 2018, when it was ousted from power by a coalition between the PP and centre-right Ciudadanos.

This was the Socialists’ third consecutive regional election loss to the PP after votes in Madrid in May 2021 and Castilla y Leon in February.

Sanchez’s government has been struggling to deal with the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation worldwide, especially through increasing energy prices.

Socialist party officials argued the results of a regional election “can’t be extrapolated” nationally.

But in an editorial, centre-left daily El Pais said no one can deny the gulf in the election scores obtained between the two parties in two of Spain’s most populated regions — Andalusia and Madrid.

This was “more than just a stumble”, it argued.

“This may be a symptom of a change in the political cycle” at the national level, it added. The conservative daily ABC took a similar line.

‘Worn down’

Pablo Simon, political science professor at the Carlos III University, said this “new cycle” in which “the right is stronger” began when the PP won a landslide in a regional election in Madrid in May 2021.

It could culminate with the PP coming out on top in the next national election expected at the end of 2023, he added.

But Cristina Monge, a political scientist at the University of Zaragoza, took a more cautious line.

“The government is worn down after four difficult years due to the pandemic” and the war in Ukraine, which has fuelled inflation, she said.

She refused to “draw a parallel” between Andalusia and Spain, arguing “there is still a lot of time” before the next national election.

Sanchez come to power in June 2018 after former PP prime minister Mariano Rajoy was voted out of office in a no-confidence motion triggered by a long-running corruption scandal.

The PP then suffered its worst-ever results in the next general election in 2019, which the Socialists won.

Sunday’s election was the first since veteran politician Alberto Núñez Feijóo, a moderate, took over as leader of the PP from Pablo Casado following a period of internal party turbulence.

Partido Popular (PP) candidate for the Andalusian regional election Juanma Moreno greets supporters during a meeting following the Andalusian regional elections, in Seville on June 19, 2022. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

‘Packing his bags’

“People are fed up with Sanchez,” the PP’s popular regional leader of Madrid, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, said Monday.

“If national elections had been held yesterday, the result would have been the same and today he would be packing his bags,” she added.

Up until now, the far-right Vox party had supported the PP in Andalusia but from outside government.

This time around however, it had said its support would be conditional on getting a share of the government of the southern region.

But the PP’s commanding victory in Andalusia means that is now moot: it no longer has to rely on far-right party Vox to govern.

At the national level, it could be a different story however, said Pablo Simon.

A PP government nationally that did not rely on Vox would be “impossible” due to the fragmentation of parliament, which has several regional and separatist parties.