Spanish Prime Minister calls snap elections after battering in regional vote

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez listens to a speech by Vox party leader Santiago Abascal during a parliamentary session in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called an early general elections for July 23.
| Photo Credit: AP

On May 29, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called an early general election for July 23 in a surprise move after his Socialist party took a severe battering in local and regional elections.

Before the debacle on May 28, Mr. Sánchez had insisted that he ride out his four-year term with leftist government coalition partner United We Can, indicating that an election would be held in December.

However, he changed his mind quickly.

“I have taken this decision given the results of the elections held yesterday,” said Mr. Sánchez from the Moncloa Presidential palace.

The woes for Mr. Sánchez and his PSOE party come as Spain is due to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1.

Mr. Sánchez said he had spoken to King Felipe VI and would hold a special Cabinet meeting later on May 29 to dissolve Parliament. The date chosen for the early election comes in the middle of Spain’s summer holiday period, with many people likely to be away from their voting areas.

The local and regional elections on May 28 saw Spain taking a major swing to the right and made the leading opposition right-wing Popular Party, or PP, the main political force in the country.

“This is unexpected,” said Ignacio Jurado, a political scientist at Madrid’s Carlos III University. “Sánchez is trying to short-circuit the PP’s rise as soon as possible.”

In the municipal vote, the Popular Party, or PP, won 31.5% of votes compared with 28.2% for the Spanish Socialist Workers Party, or PSOE. This was a 1.2% point decrease for PSOE in 2019 but almost a nine-point increase for the PP, which benefited from the collapse of the centrist Citizens Party.

The PP, which Alberto Nuñez Feijóo leads, won in seven of the 12 regions contested and dominated in several regions previously won by PSOE, including Valencia, Aragon and La Rioja. It remains to be seen how much the PP will be forced to rely on the far-right party Vox to form local and regional governments.

Spain’s regional governments have enormous power and budgetary discretion over education, health, housing and policing.

Mr. Sánchez said that although the elections on May 28 were local and regional, the trend in the vote sent a message.

“I take full responsibility for the results, and I think it is necessary to provide an answer and put our democratic mandate to the people,” he said.

The poor showing by the Socialists and United We Can was immediately taken as a dire assessment of public feeling towards the ruling left-wing coalition. The new leftist group Sumar, headed by Second Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Díaz, also failed to meet expectations.

“Mr. Sánchez reacts to a shock with another shock,” Spanish political expert Sandra León said. “He also avoids deterioration of his party in two ways: the costs of internal division in the government until December and the division with PSOE party barons in the regions.”

She said the announcement would force the parties to the left of the Socialists — United We Can and Sumar — to regroup fast.

Although the coalition government has shepherded Spain out of the COVID-19 pandemic, made the economy among the fastest growing in the EU and introduced several ground-breaking laws, something was sorely lacking.

“The message received last night was clear: Things must be done differently,” Ms. Díaz tweeted.

Feijóo has capitalized on criticizing the coalition’s reliance to stay in power through support from separatist parties such as the Republican Left in Catalonia and the Basque region’s EH Bildu.

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