Socialist Party members shake up Spain’s political scene

Last Sunday, rank-and-file members of the Socialist Party (PSOE) decided to elect Pedro Sánchez as their new secretary-general; only eight months after he was ousted from the post by the party’s Federal Committee.

Sánchez, whose motto is “No is no”, when it comes to any kind of support to the conservative Popular Party, who is currently leading the Spanish Government. The consequences are still uncertain – with early elections on the horizon, a new approach to the Catalan cause and even returning to a two-party system in the midst.

The PSOE has been suffering from a clear lack of leadership since 2014. Sánchez, the party’s leader since July 2014, aimed two years later, to ratify his position after the PSOE’s worst general election results. His strategy was to hold an extraordinary congress meeting with primary elections three weeks later, a proposal that didn’t get the Federal Committee’s support. So without the capacity or authority to make decisions, he was forced to resign from his post. And thus, what used to be a Government party and an alternative to the Popular Party, has been operating under a ‘caretaker administration’ since October 2, 2016.

This administration decided that abstention from Rajoy’s debate was the only way out. Forcing a third round of elections would have meant the threat of an even bigger socialist party fiasco, to which the polls were predicting, might move the party down to third position, behind left-wing party Podemos.

Against all odds, Sánchez has managed to successfully reinvent and has fought against the regional President of Andalucía, Susana Díaz, the candidate supported by the ‘caretaker administration’ team and the party’s heavyweights.

What’s next?

In June, the PSOE’s 39th Federal Congress will be held, where the party’s future policies will be defined. This meeting is promised to cause quite a stir. This will be followed by the choice of the lead candidate for the Moncloa presidency at the next general elections. The date for these elections will depend on the Popular Party’s capacity to govern, in partnership with a PSOE group, that will be more uncompromising, and to whom will benefit from another early election, given the socialist party’s current weakness. In any case, the chances of moving the electoral calendar forward in the short term don’t seem very likely, in order to avoid putting at risk the stability achieved so far or the current growing trend in the economy.

The Popular Party has achieved partial agreements with nationalist parties to push through several legislative initiatives. However, a PSOE group set on its permanent opposition to Rajoy, opens up a period of political uncertainty.

Sanchez’s strategy to win over the support of Catalonia’s socialist party by defining Spain as a “Nation of nations” has worked in the short term, getting almost 82% of the votes in that region. The question is, what political price is Sanchez willing to pay? Will it mean that he breaks the consensus with other political parties such as the Popular Party and centrist Ciudadanos?

Meanwhile, the conservative’s party premier in Catalonia said on Twitter that Sanchez’s comeback “Represents a tragedy for Spain”. The general secretary of Podemos, who expects this shift in rank-and-file socialist party members to benefit his group, tweeted on Sunday “Party members have sent a clear message”. It is still early days to see if Sanchez’s shift to the left and a hypothetical search for alliances with Podemos could blur the role of a PSOE even more. There’s another likely hypothesis – will Sánchez manage to win over PSOE’s traditional voters and be able to bring together the far left under his leadership? He didn’t succeed at previous elections, but it will all depend on how Podemos evolves on the left, and how Ciudadanos does the same with the centre-right, to see if the PSOE can once again offer a solid alternative to the Popular Party, returning in the medium term to a two-party system.

Words  Yolanda Vega
Photo  Shutterstock

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