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New Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez: the unexpected survivor

The leader of the Socialist Party has recovered from many political setbacks over the last few years to become the new head of the government

Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez.
Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez. AP

In a little less than a year, Pedro Sánchez has won back the support of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and been named prime minister of Spain. The politician will now govern Spain after ousting former prime minister Mariano Rajoy with a successful no-confidence motion – a motion that only a week ago he was considering not filing, given that his party is floundering in the polls.

With this victory, Sánchez has completed his political revival, a process that began when he defeated party rival Susana Díaz and the rest of the PSOE leadership at the primaries on May 21, 2017. He will now lead the Spanish government with just 84 deputies (176 are needed for a majority). This will be a true test for a man whose political career has been marked by tenacity, luck and survival.

Sánchez will be the first prime minister in Spain’s history who is not also a deputy in Congress

Sánchez will be the first prime minister in Spain’s history who is not also a deputy in Congress. The fact that the 46-year-old does not hold a seat is the most evident scar of the feud that divided the Spanish Socialists two years ago. Sánchez resigned from his seat because he did not want to take part in the vote that would see Rajoy voted in as the prime minister of a minority government. This came after Sánchez lost a bitter party battle on October 1, 2016, and was forced out as the leader of the PSOE.

Sanchez’s refusal to take part in Rajoy’s investiture session is often used an example to show he is loyal to his principles. He did not want to follow his party’s decision to abstain from the vote but he did not want to vote against his party either. So he gave up his seat.

Today, Sánchez has ousted Rajoy with a no-confidence vote supported by Podemos and nationalist and separatist parties – the same combination some of the party’s leadership refused after the June elections in 2016 because they did not want to take office by making compromises with separatists.

Pedro Sánchez shakes Mariano Rajoy's hand after the no-confidence motion is passed.
Pedro Sánchez shakes Mariano Rajoy's hand after the no-confidence motion is passed.

But Sánchez insists he did not negotiate with the separatist parties to secure their votes. The Socialist leader has said his government will comply with the Spanish Constitution and would not recognize the right of self-determination for Catalonia.

There can be no doubt about Sánchez’s iron will. His strongest character traits are resistance and perseverance, something that he has shown when all the odds were against him. The most significant example of this was his overwhelming victory at the PSOE primaries in May last year, when both his detractors and supporters recognized his political growth. Those close to him describe Sánchez as determined and consistent, a person who sometimes lacks empathy and can be distant. His critics accuse him of being inconsistent and erratic.

Sanchez’s refusal to swear in Rajoy is often used an example to show he is loyal to his principles

Sánchez has a PhD in economics and has been in politics since 2000, when he was a delegate at the Spanish Socialist Party’s 35th national congress, which elected future prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero as the party chief.

His first time in public office was as a councilor for the city of Madrid, a post he took up in 2004 after Elena Arnedo resigned. In a similar fashion, he was given a seat in Congress in 2009 and 2011, replacing Pedro Solbes and Cristina Narbona, respectively.

Sánchez is also a keen basketball player, playing in the Student Basketball Club until he was 21, where it is said he got his ambition to win. He is married to Begoña Gómez and has two daughters.

Sánchez has always wanted to be prime minister. He tried in 2015 by reaching a pact with Ciudadanos, which Podemos thwarted. He tried a second time and the PSOE leadership stopped him. And now he has done it thanks to a no-confidence motion.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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