Thursday, July 25, 2024

Spain's Pedro Sánchez remains in power despite threats to resign

For the past five days, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, one of the continent's most influential liberal voices, has haunted his nation with one question: Will he resign or not?

The whimsical political drama seems straight out of a telenovela: After he opens what he calls a bogus investigation against his wife, the brave leader invokes family honor in an emotional letter that meme-makers quickly pounce on. It was set to song on social mediaand in which he wondered whether it was “worth it” to continue in his post.

As he “reflected”, thousands took to the streets to show their support, leaving the country in suspense and blaming his political opponents for the mudslinging that brought him to the brink of resignation. He then announced his decision An intimate meeting with King Philip VI.

The climax was ultimately counterproductive: he said he would stay.

In a national address, the 52-year-old from the center-left Socialist Party used the moment to reflect on a political reality beyond Spain. Americans in particular can relate to it: the bitter polarization between right and left has led to a total breakdown of civilization; The distortion of discourse, he called “the perversion of democracy.” He asked: “Is this for Spain?”

“My wife and I knew it wasn't going to stop,” he said, adding that they were grateful for their support over the past few days, which helped him make a decision. “I have decided to continue with more force as head of the Spanish government.”

Sanchez called for a collective reflection: “We have to decide what kind of society we want to be.” He added: “I call on Spanish society to become an example, an inspiration to convulse and hurt a world, because the evil we face is not limited to Spain. It is part of a global reactionary movement, its reaction through lies and slander, hate, fear. Aims to impose an agenda.

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Sanchez is known for risky political gambles. But the past few days have reflected what analysts see as a new height in Spain's political arena, even for him. This is, perhaps, a ploy aimed at whipping up a splintered coalition of his splinter parties in parliament at a time when his increasingly weak government cannot muster the votes to pass a budget. That coalition, which includes recalcitrant Catalan separatists, is largely built on a shared goal: the desire to prevent the rise of a conservative government that also includes the far-right Vox party, a political force abhorrent to all of them.

Sánchez could have sent a reminder to the smaller parties he believes in governing that he is the only person standing between them and such a government. But in the process, he may have also undermined his credibility with the nation.

“He created a serious uncertainty in the country, which did not lead to significant change, neither in his political policies nor in his parliamentary support,” said Pablo Simon, a political scientist and professor at Madrid's Carlos III University. “It was very counterintuitive and irresponsible on his part.”

Sanchez's sudden announcement of a reflection period last week impressed more than just Spain. “Mr. Handsome” could be a contender to lead the European Council, which represents the bloc's leaders, or a long-shot challenger to the new head of NATO — outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

His decision sparked a predictable backlash from the political right, which has intensified opposition to the prime minister following his decision to back legislation granting amnesty to hundreds of Catalan separatists in a bid to boost his position in parliament. Santiago Abascal, head of the Vox party, described Sánchez's maneuver at a news conference as a “coarse, angry” attempt to “become a victim.”

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Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the larger, center-right opposition People's Party (PP), initially condemned Sánchez's move last week as “narcissism” and “childishness” unthinkable “for a mature person”. He didn't back down on Monday after Sanchez's announcement, saying, “This is not a joke. This is tragedy.”

“Spain does not have a leader equal to its citizens,” he told reporters. “For this I would like to apologize to the Spanish in the name of the political classes, to be patient in the name of reason.”

Among politicians in smaller parties supporting the Prime Minister's coalition in Parliament, there was a mixed reaction. Some, such as the Basque independence party EH Bild, appeared to support Sánchez's decision to highlight uncivilization. But other allies were more critical.

“It was the last act of a five-day comedy in which people's emotions were played upon, culminating in the form of a sermon, a sensational gesture without concrete proposals to combat the extreme right,” he said. Pere Aragones, head of the government of Catalonia.

Sanchez's minority government faces important tests in the coming months. His Socialists are poised to best separatist parties in next month's local Catalan elections, which could draw support from at least one of them nationally.

In June, Sánchez faces key elections to the European Parliament in which the right is poised to make gains that could embarrass his government.

The drama that led to the announcement was sparked on Wednesday after news broke that an investigating judge in Madrid had opened a case against Sanchez's wife, Becona Gomez, for alleged corruption and influence peddling. The investigation was instigated by Manos Limbias (Clean Hands), an organization linked to the far-right, which mostly based its complaints on news reports in the conservative press.

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The reports said Gomez used her position as the prime minister's wife to bail out Spanish airline Air Europa. However, pandemic-era corporate bailouts paralleled the trend in Spain. Spanish media reported that neither Gomez nor the public prosecutor's office had been briefed on the investigation, and that only the editors-in-chief of the media outlets had been called to testify.

Later that day, in an unprecedented move, Sánchez published a “letter to the citizens” on social media, calling it part of a “harassment” operation to “try to bring me down politically and personally by attacking my wife.” Sánchez accused PP and Vox leaders of involvement.

In addition to the case against his wife, Sánchez's government is also facing an investigation into an alleged scheme by a former transportation minister's aide to collect illegal commissions on pandemic-era medical contracts.

Sanchez, an economist by training, has led the Socialist Party since 2014 and became the first politician in Spain to oust a sitting prime minister in a 2018 no-confidence vote. He emerged as one of the continent's leading liberals. His threat comes at a time when the European left has suffered defeats in Portugal and the Netherlands, and the far and center right are poised for major victories in European parliamentary elections in June.

During her two mandates, she focused on gender equality, increasing the minimum wage through legislation, strengthening workers' rights, and protecting LGBTQ and women's rights. Some of those initiatives — notably the Transgender Act, which would have allowed 16-year-olds to legally change their gender on national ID cards without medical supervision — sparked significant backlash within his own party.

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