Socialist bloodletting opens way for Spanish solution

The drama within Spain's opposition Socialist Party which saw the resignation of Pedro Sanchez as leader could now finally unblock months of political paralysis, analysts predict.

Socialist bloodletting opens way for Spanish solution
Pedro Sanchez resigned on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Sanchez quit Saturday after high-ranking party members staged a rebellion against him for his staunch refusal to back a government under Popular Party head Mariano Rajoy.

Conservative Rajoy, who took office in 2011, has despite corruption allegations surrounding his party clung on at the head of a minority administration after two inconclusive elections in less than a year.

Sanchez has been unyielding in his refusal to have his Socialists (PSOE) back Rajoy – but that stance has divided his own party.

The dam broke Saturday after Sanchez, who had insisted that “no means no” in his rejection of Rajoy, lost a vote on the contentious issue at a tense gathering of more than 250 members of the party's federal hierarchy in Madrid.

He announced the resignation of the PSOE's federal executive committee as well as his own and promptly left the stage.   

An interim executive will now take over and could direct party lawmakers to abstain in a parliamentary vote of confidence on Rajoy staying as prime minister, rather than vote against as they did last month under Sanchez's guidance.

The weekend contretemps has spilt blood on the Socialist carpet – yet now they face metaphorically having to roll out another for the PP in an attempt to end a nine-month impasse.

El Pais gave the Socialist bust-up front page treatment Sunday, depicting an exasperated, finger-wagging woman in angry exchanges with one party heavyweight.

“Pedro Sanchez resigns and leaves behind a more divided and defeated PSOE,” read the El Pais headline.

“Broken” and “devastated” were other choice media adjectives for the state of the party.

December and June elections left the PP as the largest party but without a majority as two newcomers to the political scene, the radical leftist Podemos and the liberal Ciudadanos, gnawed away chunks of the traditional parties' votes.

'Years of hegemony'

With the PP garnering 137 seats out of 350 they require the 85-strong PSOE contingent to abstain in order to form a viable administration.  

If the deadlock persists beyond October 31st there will have to be yet another election in December.

Sanchez had hoped to bring together sufficient support for a leftist-led government rather than bow to another term of PP rule characterised by austerity-led fiscal policy following the economic crisis which broke in 2008.

Opponents of Sanchez took the line that the PSOE risked being seen as holding up matters and also losing votes to Podemos, who have emerged as a serious threat to the party.

Given the evident deep split in the party, political analyst Pablo Simon of Madrid's Carlos III University believes those risks reduce still further any chance PSOE might have of forming an alternative to the PP.

“There remain only two choices – abstain or else fresh elections,” said Simon.

“And after the bloodletting we have seen I think the PSOE knows that to present itself once more at the polls would be suicidal.  

“Therefore, the hypothesis of abstention has hugely gained ground.”  

Abstention across the PSOE the parliamentary caucus, would leave Rajoy's PP in a very strong position, not least as a substantial proportion of PSOE voters would likely abstain.

“The year started without a government and will finish with the renaissance of Senor Rajoy,” predicts Ignacio Escolar, director of leftist online daily

The split in PSOE ranks “will mean years of hegemony by the Right,” one source close to Sanchez told AFP ahead of the weekend's cataclysmic events for his party.

To avoid another election the Socialists face having to back a tough budget after Brussels ordered more belt-tightening to reduce a soaring public sector deficit.

In the meantime, Javier Fernandez Fernandez, who favours abstention, will be the PSOE's interim leader with a meeting of the federal committee expected within days to decide on its position regarding the PP.

By Michaela Cancela-Kieffer / 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.