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Socialists under interim control after party chief resigns

Pedro Sánchez loses out to party rebels after plan to hold leadership vote beaten down

Party chief Pedro Sánchez announces his resignation.
Party chief Pedro Sánchez announces his resignation. EFE

An unprecedented week-long crisis for Spain’s Socialists (PSOE) culminated on Saturday with the resignation of party chief and general secretary Pedro Sánchez.

After a day of political infighting between PSOE leaders at the party’s headquarters in Madrid, Sánchez finally agreed to step down from his position, after a rebellion by members of his executive committee earlier in the week forced his hand over Spain’s ongoing political stalemate.

The origin of the internal conflict was Sánchez’s refusal to step aside and allow the incumbent Popular Party (PP) to form a minority government. The PP was the most-voted party at an inconclusive general election held in December 2015, and a repeat poll in June of this year. Despite winning most seats in Congress, the PP was unable to find the support needed to see acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy voted back in to office.

This was in large part due to Sánchez’s refusal to abstain in the second round of an investiture vote, prompting growing calls within the PSOE for a deal to be struck to avoid Spain facing an unprecedented third general election – which, much to the dismay of an increasingly weary electorate, would most likely have to be held on Christmas Day due to the strict timetables of Spain’s electoral law.

On Saturday, party chiefs convened at the PSOE HQ on Ferraz street in Madrid to debate whether to open up a leadership race in October, as Sánchez wanted, or whether to force him out of his position. Party supporters and members of the public were out in force on the street outside of the building during the 10-hour crisis meetings, along with throngs of journalists who were unable to enter the HQ.

But in the end Sánchez lost the vote, and was forced out of his role as general secretary two years and three months after being first chosen by the party’s grassroots members. In a poll held with raised hands, he lost by 132 votes to 107. A minute later he announced his resignation.

“Today, following a day of intense debates, a vote was held on whether a party conference should take place on October 23 so that the grassroots could pick their leader,” said Sánchez. “Unfortunately, I have lost this vote and I have resigned as secretary general of the party.”

The PSOE will now be under the leadership of an interim management team, while another federal committee will decide whether or not to allow Rajoy to be voted back in as prime minister at another investiture vote, thus breaking the political deadlock that has paralyzed Spanish government since the December election.