Spanish PM Sanchez shocks country again putting his continuity on the line


  • World
  • Thursday, 25 Apr 2024

FILE PHOTO: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez meets with NASA administrator Bill Nelson (not pictured), at Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain May 30, 2023. REUTERS/Juan Medina/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is no stranger to high octane political battles and has successfully fought for his career in public life several times.

On Wednesday evening, Sanchez said he would suspend public duties until next week to decide whether he wants to continue leading the government.

The shock announcement came after a Spanish court said earlier on Wednesday it was launching a preliminary investigation into whether Sanchez's wife Begona Gomez committed a crime of influence peddling and corruption in business in her private dealings.

Gomez, 49, a marketing graduate, has been married to Sanchez since 2006 and has worked largely in academia.

Sanchez said the seriousness of the attacks that he and his wife were receiving merited a measured response, adding he would appear before the media on Monday to announce his decision.

The reputation of the youthful-looking 52-year-old Sanchez, known as "El Guapo" (Mr. Handsome), as a risk-taker precedes him.

Almost a year ago he called a snap national election that represented the Spanish prime minister's biggest political gamble then.

The bold move came after his Socialist Party (PSOE) did badly in local ballots and took senior members of the party by surprise, according to sources.

His Socialist Party eventually managed to stay in power though failed to clinch a majority in the following July election, forcing him to do a deal with smaller parties, including Catalan separatists.

That, however, enabled him to remain in power.

But when the deal confirmed Catalan independence activists would be given amnesty in return for their support, it sent shockwaves around the country.

The surprise step comes just two weeks before the Socialists seek to wrest control of Catalonia from separatist parties, and just months from European Parliamentary elections in which Spain's socialists are expected to be the strongest force in a weakening S&D group.

Conservative People's Party Senator Javier Maroto called his announcement a bluff on X.

"Yet another pirouette. And a pre-campaign act, as always, victimising himself: he is the good, the others the evil. Of course he wants to stay in Moncloa. At any cost. And at any price. It's the 'Pedro Sanchez' brand. On Monday we will all see for ourselves."

SNAP ELECTION WINS

Often underestimated by his opponents and sometimes by his supporters, Sanchez gained a reputation for doggedness when, as opposition leader in 2016, he stuck to his "no means no" mantra against enabling a conservative government.

The move laid bare divisions within PSOE after most other party members abstained to avert the need for another snap election after Sanchez lost two in as many years, and he was briefly ousted before returning as leader with backing from the party's grassroots members.

In 2018, he became the first politician in Spain to topple a sitting government via a no-confidence motion, taking over as prime minister and then winning two subsequent snap elections, ultimately forming a coalition government with the far-left Podemos, also a first.

He published a book, "Manual of Resistance", about his experience, in which he wrote: "It might sound presumptuous, but I realise that I grow in difficult situations".

Most of his term has been marked by crisis management.

Spain entered the pandemic with some of the world's highest COVID-19 mortality rates but then showed a spectacular recovery as the government applied tough restrictions, opened more hospitals and hired extra medical staff.

The economy suffered a record slump in 2020, but posted a solid rebound in 2021-22 thanks mainly to billions in EU rescue funds, of which Spain is one of the main recipients.

The Spanish government now expects Spain to grow 2% in 2024. Though that's still lower than the 2.5% expansion in 2023, Spain's output would still be clear above the 0.6% the European Central Bank's forecast for the euro zone in 2024.

Forced to tackle the politically disruptive consequences of a failed 2017 bid for independence by Catalonia, Sanchez's government tried to appease the separatists in exchange for their support in parliament.

The opposition labelled him a traitor after he pardoned jailed pro-independence leaders and downgraded the crime of secession.

Passionately pro-European and integrationist, having studied economic policy in Brussels and worked in the European Parliament and the United Nations, Sanchez also sought to tackle another polarising national legacy.

The government exhumed Franco from his mausoleum, and promoted the search and exhumations from mass graves of victims of the civil war that preceded his 1939-1975 fascist dictatorship. It also removed Franco-era symbols from Spanish streets.

Under Sanchez's leadership, the PSOE, which he joined at 21, has suffered the fate of many of its left-wing and centrist peers across Europe, where traditional political identities have been undermined by populist leaders from across the political spectrum, notably the far-right, whose Spanish incarnation is Vox.

A basketball fan, Sanchez is the father to two teenage daughters with Gomez.

(Writing by Jesús Aguado; editing by Diane Craft)

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