Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called on Friday (15 February) for snap elections on 28 April, only nine months after he took office, after failing to secure the Parliament’s support for his 2019 budget.
“Call me old-fashioned but I think you cannot rule without a budget,” Sánchez told the press. “There are parliamentary defeats that are social victories, the people have seen the country we want,” he said in a defence of his blueprint.
Sánchez, who has been running the country with a minority government, needed the support of far-left coalition Unidos Podemos (GUE/NGL) and the nationalist forces to pass the bill.
As the executive dialogue with Catalan separatists to find a solution to the political conflict collapsed, they voted against and so did opposition parties Spanish People´s Party (EPP) and Ciudadanos (ALDE).
“They will have to explain why they knocked down a budget that I believe was a good social blueprint for Catalonia too,” Sánchez said.
The socialist leader took office in June last year, after ousting conservative Mariano Rajoy in a no-confidence vote, following a major corruption scandal in his party.
Back then, the two Catalan nationalist parties, Republican Left of Catalonia and Catalan European Democratic Party backed him.
Catalan left MP Gabriel Rufián defended the separatists’ position by arguing that “the Spanish left does not understand that when the Catalan republicans say enough to a government that does nothing against a repressive state, they are defending them too.”
Catalonia, the elephant in the room
Sánchez will dissolve the chambers in March and then the electoral campaign will kick off. Meanwhile, the trial against the twelve Catalan leaders that started last Tuesday (12 February) will continue.
They are accused of leading the organisation of the referendum and the unilateral independence of Catalonia in November 2017 and face up to 30 years of prison.
The pulse between Spanish nationalist forces and Catalan nationalist has increased the tension in the region, particularly due to Rajoy’s government violent response to the referendum that was condemned from Brussels.
Sánchez’s agreement with Catalan nationalist to overthrow Rajoy in a no-confidence vote helped ease the tension. The socialist leader opened a dialogue with the Catalan government to search for a solution to the conflict.
However, as Catalans asked for a vote on self-determination, the talks collapsed.
Sanchez’s strategy was not appreciated by the opposition, who saw it as a concession to separatist forces. Both PP and Ciudadanos defended the need to make use of article 155, as former Prime Minister Rajoy did, and take over the Catalan government instead.
On Sunday (10 February), more than 50,000 people gathered in Madrid’s city centre led by PP, Ciudadanos and far-right Vox, to protest against the government’s negotiation with Catalan separatists.
They accused Sánchez of ‘treason’ a demanded him to call for elections.
However, it was the vote on the budget, not the demonstration, that brought him down. Still, the Catalans had a lot to do with it.
“What we will have to choose on 28 April is if we want is a model in which we negotiate with Torra [Qim Torra, president of Catalonia] or a political party that will lead the application of the article 155,” PP leader Pablo Casado told the press following Sánchez´s announcement.
“Spanish people, have a great opportunity and an enormous responsibility,” said Albert Rivera, Ciudadanos chair.
“It is time to open a new chapter after 40 years PP and socialist getting deals with nationalists,” Rivera stressed, as PP has co-operated with Bask Country nationalist PNV.
“From now on, the future should be on the hands of those who love this country.”
Sánchez defended his strategy on this issue again. “We want a dialogue in the framework of the Constitution and the rule of law,” he said, “there are ways to solve this conflict.”
To govern a country, he said, “is to build bridges, not to cause confrontation.”
The fall of traditional parties, Socialist and PP, the consolidation of relatively new forces, Unidos Podemos and Ciudadanos, and the rise of the far-right, Vox, throw the election stage wide open.
The latest polls show an increasingly fragmented electorate and therefore, a coalition will most likely be necessary to run the country.
Rivera, however, has already discarded cooperating with the Socialists. “Sánchez and the socialists have to go to the opposition,” he told the press.
As Ciudadanos closes its door to Sánchez, an Andalusian-style coalition seems more plausible.
“I don’t impose sanitary cordon to anyone, except those who try to destroy my country,” he said. “I am surprised that he would impose a sanitary cordon on me and not on the far-right,” Sánchez reply.
PP and Ciudadanos reached an agreement in Andalusia to run the country with the support of anti-migrant, misogynist, ultra-nationalist Vox that is expected to enter for the first time in the national parliament in this election.
Meanwhile, the Spanish left had barely reacted. Only Alberto Garzon (European Left, GUE/NGL) said in a communique the party is ready for the elections to guarantee a candidature hard-working, feminist and plural.
“All elections are important but this one, without any kind of doubts, even more,” the still Spanish Prime minister Pedro Sánchez said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]