Consigned to failure? What the snap election tells us about Sanchez's shaky mandate
Earlier this February, Pedro Sánchez effectively became Spain’s shortest governing democratic President after calling a snap general election for April 28th. Sánchez became president in June of the past year, when he unexpectedly snatched the Presidency after successfully filing of a no-confidence motion that resulted the ousting of the then sitting President Mariano Rajoy. Reliant on a diverse set of backers who shared little more than their vocal opposition to the Rajoy government, the chances that Sánchez could remain in power by indefinitely by balancing such a vast array of competing interests were always slim. Although his party, the PSOE, was fully aware this, it nevertheless aspired to find common ground with other groups for as long as possible. Such hopes, however, turned out to be in vain, and after negotiations broke off with Catalan MPs the Sánchez administration was finally forced to give in, calling at last for a snap election that had long been looming on the horizon.With up to five major parties competing in the electoral race, the upcoming election represents the final nail on the coffin of an already moribund bipartisan system.
For the best part of the last forty years, right-wing PP and centre-left PSOE alternated power back and forth, with every other party resigned to playing a more subdued role. The 2008 economic crash, which left in shambles the once high-performing Spanish economy, put the inability of both major parties to govern the nation efficiently at the centre of the political debate, and the ensuing wave of popular discontent compelled disillusioned voters to search for alternatives outside the establishment. Thus, in the span of a few years, parties like left-wing Podemos or centre-right Ciudadanos rose sharply through the polls, all while the PP and the PSOE pondered what exactly had gone wrong. Albeit the sudden demise of the bi
partisan system gave citizens more choice than ever before, it also engendered unprecedented instability in a country accustomed to relatively placid legislatures. As former President Felipe González warned in late 2015, Spain ran the risk of electing an ‘Italian-style’ parliament; one in which the sheer number of elected parties would lessen the chances of reaching a consensus of any sort. The prophecy, in a sense, was self-fulfilling: in the following general election, Spaniards elected a hung parliament which left the country destitute of a working government for an entire year.
Even though the days of governing with absolute majorities are long gone for the PSOE, their expectations for the April 28th election remain reasonably high. With merely eight weeks to the election, most polls put the party as the clear winner; furthermore, Sánchez aspires to have strengthened his lead by the time the campaigning period comes to a close, an aim which does not seem overly ambitious given the current state of affairs. To start with, the election comes at a time of bitter internal division within the other major left-wing party, Podemos, with co-founder Íñigo Errejón presenting an alternative candidature to the upcoming Madrid council elections. In light of this timely circumstance, it is to be expected the PSOE will use the rise of Vox (a previously unrepresented far right party which gained a whopping twelve seats in the Andalusian regional election last December) to depict itself as the only left-wing option that could realistically challenge the rise of the populist right. Indeed, with centre-right Ciudadanos having already snubbed a post-election pact with the PSOE seemingly in favour of Vox and the PP, the fear of the radical right regaining power in Spain is as real as it has ever been, and Pedro Sánchez seems eager to exploit this to his advantage.
Still, notwithstanding the fact that a clear PSOE victory appears to be the likeliest of all possible scenarios, the possibility of either left or right-wing parties being able to secure a cross-party alliance that would guarantee a parliamentary majority continues to be remote. A lot, however, can change in sixty days, and it seems like the outcome of a highly polarized campaign will be crucial in deciding an election marked by uncertainty. González’s cautionary remarks may not have been too far off the mark, after all.