After just eight-and-a-half months in power and with their term not scheduled to end until 2020, Pedro Sanchez has announced a snap general election for April 28th.
So how did we get here?
End of two-party politics
The leaders of Spain's four main parties going into the elections in 2015. Photo: AFP
Since the early 1980s, power in Spain had alternated without interruption between the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party (PP). But December 20, 2015 put an end to over three decades of two-party hegemony when two new parties, centre-right Ciudadanos 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 Sanchez's Socialists, which came in second but also lost ground, reached an agreement with Ciudadanos but this too was not enough to form a government.
Due to the political impasse, fresh elections were held on June 26, 2016. The PP gained ground but still fell short of an absolute majority and political paralysis persisted.
On October 29th, 2016, Rajoy was 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 Ciudadanos and the abstention of the Socialists. Weeks earlier, the Socialists ousted their leader Pedro Sanchez 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.
But all that fell apart on June 1st last year when Sanchez ousted Rajoy in a surprise no.confidence vote.after the ruling PP was found guilty of benefiting from illegal funds in a massive graft trial.
Sanchez 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.
Sanchez won the vote with the support of a hodgepodge of different formations, including Podemos, two Catalan separatist parties and a Basque nationalist party.
Ciudadanos leader Abert Rivera labelled it a “Frankenstein government” because of its lack of unifying views.
Eight-and-a-half months of Socialists in power
Pedro Sanchez with his new cabinet after ousting Rajoy in June 2018. Photo: AFP
As soon as he took power in June 2018, Sanchez proved his feminist credentials by appointing a cabinet with a majority of women.
READ MORE: This is Spain’s new cabinet
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.
And raised the minimum wage by 22 percent 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.
The Catalan problem
Sanchez inherited the hugely cleaving issue of the secession crisis in Catalonia, problematic not least because his party relied on their support in the national parliament to get anything done.
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.
It didn’t help that the start of Supreme Court trial of the Catalan separatist leaders – dubbed the trial of the century – coincided with the budget debate just a stone’s throw away in the national congress.
Sanchez, whose government had the smallest majority of any since the return transition to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco's death in 1975, submitted 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 separatist parties, whose demand for a legally binding independence referendum is unacceptable to Sanchez, broke down and he failed to win their much-needed votes to approve the budget in parliament.
Catalan lawmakers on Wednesday joined those from the PP and Ciudadanos in voting against the budget, prompting Sanchez on Friday to call early elections.
A far-right party look set to win seats in parliament for the first time since the dictatorship of Franco. Photo: AFP
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.
Although the Socialists would win the largest share of the vote in a general election, according to polls of voter intentions, they are unlikely to be able to form majority government even with the support of far-left Podemos.
But an alliance of the centre-right Popular Party (PP) and Citzens parties, aided by the far right Vox party, could take power – as they have done in Andalusia.
A recent survey for eldiario.es, an online newspaper, found right-wing parties and Vox would win 51.2 per cent of votes, while the Socialists and the far left Unidos Podemos would garner a mere 39.5 per cent.
But given Sanchez’s track-record of bouncing back, all bets are off for the upcoming elections on April 28th.
Sanchez, who at 1.90-metre-tall used to be a former basketball player – “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.”