John Boyce takes a look at what is in store now that Pedro Sanchez has clinched another term as prime minister.
After months of deadlock, uncertainty, and tortuous negotiations, Spain finally produced a prime minister last month. With the support of 179 members of parliament, caretaker PM Pedro Sanchez was reelected to the post for another four year term.
His return to power has not been without controversy. In order to win the crucial backing of Catalan separatists, Sanchez conceded a blanket amnesty for hundreds of activists and politicians involved in the failed Catalan independence referendum of 2017, which covers a variety of criminal convictions that flowed from the debacle.
The decision produced a furious backlash from right wing opposition parties, who have accused Sanchez of personal treachery. In the run up to the July general election, Sanchez explicitly ruled out any such amnesty, acutely aware that even his own socialist party (PSOE) voters took a dim view of the proposal.
Post election, and in desperate need of separatists votes, Sanchez changed tack, insisting that an amnesty was necessary to heal the wounds between Catalonia and the rest of Spain, and to promote peaceful co-existence going forward. The decision has led to massive demonstrations across the country, and nightly protests in front of the PSOE party headquarters in Madrid, spearheaded by the far right vox party, and which have resulted in violence and arrests.
Though the issue of Catalonia has understandably grabbed the headlines, the political headwinds facing Pedro Sanchez in the coming four years are more likely to stem from good old fashioned political ideology than amnesty.
While Sanchez has done well to stitch together another so-called Frankenstein coalition from the disparate forces that make up Spain’s fractured parliament, an important but rarely mentioned reality still confronts the new president. It is right wing parties that actually constitute a majority in parliament.
Though violently disagreeing with the main opposition Popular Party (PP) on Catalan independence, right wing separatists, Puigdemont’s Junts Per Catalunya, are ideologically aligned with the PP on just about everything else.
On the one hand, Junts will be reluctant to bring down the socialist government, a move that, if the pools are to be believed, would result in the election of a right wing administration involving Vox. On the other, the party will be reluctant to get on board with PSOE’s progressive legislative agenda, particularly on economic policy.
To cement a coalition deal with the smaller, radical left, Sumar party, Sanchez has agreed to a number of progressive proposals, such as working towards a 37.5 hour week with no loss of pay, and further hikes in the minimum wage. Sanchez has already given away the store to separatists to get elected president, so it is difficult to see what more he can offer to induce them to support such left wing policies.
In the previous legislature Sanchez had more room for manoeuvre, and was able to mix and match support from different political entities, depending on the nature of the legislation he wanted to enact. This time round, with the opposition just four seats shy of a majority, Sanchez needs the votes of all the other parties, all the time, to pass legislation. The result is likely to be four years of stalemate.
Another major potential headache is the destabilising internal divisions emerging within junior coalition partner, Sumar, over the demotion of the once dominant Podemos faction. After the party’s disastrous results in the local elections in May, Leader Yolanda Diaz sidelined their representatives within her newly formed radical left coalition, and blocked their most high profile and controversial minister, Irene Montero, from running as a candidate in July’s general election.
Needless to say, this has not gone down well with Podemos, who occupied several ministries in the previous government. In the current administration they have none. Though reduced to a rump of just five MPs under the Sumar umbrella, with such a slim majority in parliament the party still retains the power to wreak havoc within Sanchez’s progressive coalition.
Given the prospect of gridlock in parliament and brewing civil war to his left, not to mention a looming housing crisis and the still daunting challenges of inflation and Ukraine, the fallout from the controversial amnesty decision is fast beginning to look like the least of Sanchez’s worries.