Sánchez finally returns as Spanish PM, but at a huge cost

Pedro Sánchez

By Mark Buckley

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has finally been returned to office after putting together an unstable coalition of his own Blairite Socialists (PSOE), a much-reduced left plus nationalist forces.  The right and far right combined were big winners in terms of the vote, and the latter have since gone on the rampage in opposition to Sánchez’s programme.

After poor local elections in May, Sánchez had called an early election. The right (PP, Partido Popular) and far right (VOX) had made substantial gains. In the event, these rightist forces added a combined 9.6% of the vote and 29 seats in the general election.

However, all of these gains and more were registered by PP as Vox lost ground. Together, they fell just a handful of seats short of an overall majority in parliament and were unable to pick up any allies to form a coalition.

Over the period before the election the leftist Podemos had gone into crisis, with its long-time leader Iglesias quitting politics. Its successor Sumar is clearly to its right. The internal conflicts over austerity, the Ukraine war and the national questions in the Spanish State have largely been resolved in favour of positions acceptable to Sánchez and PSOE.

Sumar lost 3% of vote, all of it picked up by PSOE, as well as losing 7 seats. PSOE itself gained only 1 seat and is now more than ever reliant on the direct support of national parties.

This is Sánchez’s immediate problem. He has offered an amnesty to leaders of the PNV who had been in exile. This followed brutal repression and undemocratic measures enforced by Sánchez’s own government during its previous term.

There have been a series of growing protests against the amnesty. 170,000 are reported to have marched in Madrid on Saturday 18 November. The protests are dominated by the right, and the frequent riots that have followed are led by the far right and include outright fascist supporters, including followers of Franco.

Sánchez’s manoeuvring has set the stage for further turmoil and growth of the right. He has remade the far left in his own image but in doing so has decimated it. He has been forced now to rely on nationalist forces he previously tried to crush.

Beyond the amnesty, it is not clear there is any new thinking on the democratic rights of national minorities. Support for the Ukraine war is set to continue, despite clear majorities of the public opposing it. There has been some license to junior members of the government to call for ceasefire in Gaza, which is even more popular and Sánchez himself has said they will recognise a Palestinian State.

There is also no plan to revive the economy or to tackle falling living standards. A major test could come as early as next month, with the draft budget for 2024.

Sánchez has registered a personal triumph. But the cost to the Spanish working class and its allies could be significant. Yet he lacks any real trust among the nationalist parties. Principled and skilful national parties, such as Bildu in the Basque country may be able to exploit PSOE’s dependence on their votes to press forward their national aspirations.    

Image: Pedro Sánchez. Cropped image. Licensed under CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019 – Source: EP.