Outgoing Spanish prime minister in tough election race not expected to produce clear win

Outgoing Spanish prime minister in tough election race not expected to produce clear win

Outgoing Spanish prime minister in tough election race not expected to produce clear win

Written by Reuters

23 Apr, 2019 | 4:02 pm

Reuters – With his Socialist party well ahead in opinion polls, outgoing 47-year old Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has the highest chance of leading Spain’s next government – if he can find enough allies in a fragmented political landscape.

Sanchez benefits from the weakness of the far left and the division of the right wing between three parties.

Known early in his career as “El Guapo” or “The handsome one”, a nickname he says he doesn’t like, Sanchez, beat the odds when he managed to go from resigning as leader of his party and resigning to his seat in parliament, to becoming prime minister two years later, after unseating the conservatives of Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence motion.

After having to resign as party leader in October 2016, in the same month, in a teary, emotional announcement at a news conference, he gave up his seat in parliament after his party decided to allow Rajoy to form a government and end a months-long political stalemate.

Sanchez was back in the Socialist party leader’s chair seven months later with the vote of party members.

He has focused his campaign on trying to rally left-wing voters against the possibility of seeing the far-right Vox party in government and has championed women’s rights and put together the first Spanish cabinet with more women than men.

Sanchez also appealed to left-wing voters by ordering the exhumation of dictator Francisco Franco’s remains from a state mausoleum.

After becoming prime minister Spain offered to take in a rescue ship, the Aquarius, drifting in the Mediterranean sea with 629 migrants stranded on board after Italy and Malta refused to let it dock, drawing criticism from political opponents for a lack of clear immigration policy.

Sanchez’s government has raised the minimum wage by 22 percent, and tried to negotiate a greater degree of autonomy for Catalonia with its independence-minded government, something that has also drawn the ire of those against the move prompting thousands to protest in the streets of Madrid calling for his resignation in a demonstration in February organised by the conservative PP and Ciudadanos and supported by the far-right party Vox.

The right-wing parties have focused their attacks on Sanchez, and particularly on his Catalonia policies. On the other side, the Catalan separatists he may need to stay in power want him to be open to an independence referendum – which he opposes.

His supporters say he has a calm personality and a talent for compromise. Opponents say he lacks charisma and a clear political vision.

Pro European, Sanchez has called for unity and common social, economic and migration policies in the European Union.

In his short eight months in office, his agenda included visits to Berlin, Brussels and Paris. He has given his support to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on migrant policies, and his move to take in the Aquarius was viewed as defusing a possible EU crisis.

While the Socialists have managed to adopt some economic measures including an increase in pensions and minimum wages, their rolling over of the 2018 budget means a number of tax hikes will not enter force, making it harder to cut the deficit.

In February Sanchez was forced to call an early election after Catalan separatists withheld support for his budget, effectively dooming it to defeat.

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