Sanchez’s Mildly Surprising Struggle to Maintain Power 

  • Sanchez´s Socialist Party obtained 122 seats in the Spanish national elections last July.
  • The results surprised all polling predicting a clear win for the conservatives.
  • Following his opponent’s failed bid to become the new PM, Sanchez will attempt a voting that will allow him to remain in his post.
Pedro Sanchez
CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019 – Source: EP

Why is Sanchez Mild?

Answer: Feijoo’s failed candidacy to become PM grants Sanchez the opportunity to remain in his post.

On September 29, the Spanish congress rejected Alberto Nuñez Feijoo, leader of the People’s Party (PP) and winner of the general election that took place back in July, as he posed himself to become the new prime minister of Spain. He was only able to collect 172 votes in favour of the 176 he needed.

After the failed attempts by Feijoo, now the candidate for the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and current PM, Pedro Sánchez, is expected to try to succeed where his opponent failed.  With the 122 seats obtained by his party, he must obtain the remaining votes by negotiating with the various minority independent parties, while also expecting support from the far-left coalition SUMAR. This situation constitutes an opportunity for the rest of the parties in the Spanish congress. The lack of external support will impede the formation of a government, thus forcing the voters to return to the polls.

The current situation grants the smaller parties more bargaining power in negotiations with PSOE. Negotiating is the only way for Sanchez to remain PM, making him more inclined to give in to the other party’s demands. 

What is changing Sanchez’s temperature?

Answer: PSOE’s surprising results at the snap general elections in July. 

Back in May, Spain held local and regional plebiscites in most parts of the country. Overall, PP won the elections. The loss of votes for PSOE when compared to the previous regional elections had a profound impact on socialist power all across the country. 

PSOE lost 15 of the 22 regional capitals where it used to be the main political force. Even Spanish territories that have always been considered as socialist hotspots have been lost in favour of the PP. However, only a small group of the conservatives candidates reached the majority needed to form a government on their own. The situation required the PP to start negotiations with VOX, which became the third political force, to form right wing coalition governments. 

Following the dawnfall of the socialists, Sanchez called a snap election in the middle of summer in an attempt to demonstrate that he maintained the country’s support. On July 23, Sanchez’s party became the second most-voted political force, while the conservatives became the winning party after securing 136 seats. 

This surprised the nation, since Feijoo was expected to achieve a clear victory according to the polling surveys conducted in the weeks leading up to the election date. However, the tight outcome of the elections between PP and PSOE meant that there was no clear candidate to become the new PM.

Sanchez used these results to show that he still counts with the support of the general public, and to present himself as the only “progressive” alternative to a “reactionary” PP-VOX coalition government. 

What is driving Sanchez?

Answer: PSOE’s upper hand in negotiations as the “only option” to form a government. 

In the weeks leading up to this summer’s snap elections, VOX was involved in repeated scandals. The conservatives’ blind eye towards their political partner sparked waves of protests. It is believed that these alliances were the main reason behind PP’s lacklustre performance in July’s elections.

On the other hand, the socialists took advantage of the regional pacts. The policies passed following the formation of the right-wing governments, which touched topics as delicate as gender violence, censorship and the use of co-official languages, were heavily criticised by left-wing parties. The elections results seem to confirm that the Spanish citizens were not in favour of the moves being taken by the Spanish right, which favoured Sanchez and allowed him to obtain enough votes to attempt to remain in power.

Now, Sanchez is presenting his candidacy as the “only alternative” to a “reactionary government” led by PP and under the strong influence of VOX. The cordon sanitaire imposed on VOX by the rest of the political forces, present during Feijoo’s candidacy attempt, seem to confirm Sanchez’s statement. 

The election also appears to confirm a return to bipartidism. The disappearance of Ciudadanos and the huge transfer of votes from minority parties to PP and PSOE has made them the main players in the Spanish political scene. 

Sanchez is also counting on the return of the two-parties trend to influence the negotiations with the independent parties from Catalonia and the Basque Country. A lack of agreement will result in an election repeat, and the continuity of the trend will likely further reduce the number of votes for these small parties, deeming them almost powerless in their demands. However, at the present time, they are the ones holding the key for Sanchez’s presidency, which calls for a certain degree of reciprocity with the socialists.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Spain recently took over the presidency of the EU Council, and Sanchez was able to continue leading its agenda. Additionally, the results constitute a change in the rise of the far-right trend.

Back in July, Spain assumed the rotating presidency of the EU Council until the end of the year. Albeit the early Spanish elections, Sanchez has still been able to prepare the agenda for the entire duration of the presidency. This has been an opportunity for Sánchez to demonstrate that Spain is at the forefront of European issues, particularly following Brexit and the swing to the right of the Italian government.

Additionally, the results of the elections make Spain an outlier in Europe,  where far-right parties have been gaining momentum, and representatives, in the past few years. While the experts expected this trend to continue in Spain with a PP-VOX coalition government, the Spanish citizens have made a counter-move to put a stop to this trend after witnessing the consequences of such agreements at the local and regional levels.