“All or nothing”: Pedro Sanchez, Spain’s gamble on snap elections

After a disastrous local election, the embattled Prime Minister makes his riskiest career bet to stay in power Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sánchez, whose career has been marked by near death experiences and audacious gambles, has made his most daring bet yet by calling a snap general election the day after he was rebuked by voters.

On July 23, Sanchez announced the poll five months earlier that was expected. He said the defeat of his Socialist Party to the People’s Party in local and regional election meant it was important to “clarify the will” of the people.

Analysts say that it’s in his best interest to move the vote from December. This will give the clever politician a small chance of consolidating the votes of the left, while making the specter of an alliance with the hard-right Vox into a problem.

“It is a clever move,” said Alicia Gil-Torres a political advisor and professor at the Valladolid University. “It is all or nothing.”

Even if his chances for survival were better in the July poll, his loss on Sunday of large swathes of territory shows that odds are against him.

Snap polls are a good way to avoid months of bitterness and even challenges to Sanchez’s leadership within the Socialist Party, which could make it more weak by the time a vote is held in December.

Sanchez’s previous actions have bred a bad feeling that could lead to an internal war.

Outside of Spain, the prime minister is known as an international statesman who has style. Some in his party, however, still view him as a politician who rose from obscurity in 2014 to become the leader of the Socialist Party, or PSOE. He then presided over two crushing election losses before being removed in an internal coup.

Gil-Torres said, “Nobody cared about him the first time he left PSOE.” After eight months of wilderness, he won the support of the grassroots to win back the leadership in 2017. His rival was a former premier’s favourite.

In extraordinary circumstances, he was appointed prime minister in the following year. He used a vote of no confidence over corruption to convince Parliament to remove a government in power for the first ever time in Spain’s history. His tenure in office was marked by the fragmentation on the left.

Jose Ignacio Torreblanca is the head of the Madrid branch of the European Council on Foreign Relations. He said Sanchez might think he could “capitalise on” the weaknesses of two leftists parties in order to gain their votes and strengthen his position among progressives.

Podemos is one of them. It was once a very popular political party and has been his coalition partner ever since 2019. However, it performed badly on Sunday due to its bad reputation. This is because the association between Podemos and a faulty sexual consent law resulted in shorter prison sentences for certain sex criminals. Sumar is a party founded by Sanchez’s vice-prime minister, Yolanda Diz, in this year with the aim of consolidating leftwing voters. It didn’t field candidates for Sunday’s election and may not be ready in seven weeks to hold a general elections either.

Torreblanca questioned whether this ploy was effective. Voters do not see the Socialist Party as a separate party. He said that voters see the Socialist party as a part of a group, which also includes controversial Catalan separatists and Basque separatists. “Sanchez is not going to be able to hold power by himself.”

Sumar’s Diaz who joined Sanchez’s alliance as a communist member, tweeted on Sunday: “In face of [People’s Party leader Alberto Nunez] Feijoo’s dreary Spain, we’re out to win.”

It is also possible that the snap elections for the Prime Minister will highlight the PP’s biggest challenge after the regional votes: it has few absolute majority in the legislatures, except Madrid’s. This means it will need to form coalitions or voting pacts (with Vox) to form government.

Vox, a right-wing populist group, is skeptical about climate change and protective of the “Christian heritage”. It also criticizes feminists and globalists. The Socialists plan to use Vox as a coalition partner with the PP to woo centrist voters from the PP and to get them to stop abstaining, said Pablo Simon.

Vox and PP will engage in semipublic negotiations about possible regional deals over the next few weeks. This is a conservative piece of political theatre, which the Prime Minister will refashion as a central element of his campaign.

Sanchez’s cleverness might only take him so far. Simon explained that the snap election was aimed at preventing what could have been a disaster in December. “But it is very difficult for him .”