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Spanish PM: “There is a real risk that the right could join with the far right”

Ahead of Sunday’s general election in Spain, Socialist Party leader Pedro Sánchez speaks to EL PAÍS about possible outcomes after what are expected to be inconclusive polls

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in La Moncloa.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez in La Moncloa.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE) is heading toward what might be his first election win after being defeated twice at the polls, ousted by his own party, and then returning victorious in party primaries and leading a successful vote of no confidence against Mariano Rajoy of the conservative Popular Party (PP).

Polls suggest Sánchez will win the highest number of seats in Congress at the general election this Sunday, April 28, but fall short of an absolute majority. Amid this uncertainty, the PSOE leader is hoping to mobilize the left to avoid a repetition of the election results in Andalusia, where the right-wing parties PP and Ciudadanos (Citizens) formed a government after an inconclusive election result thanks to the support of the far-right party Vox.

The following is an edited version of the original interview in Spanish.

From l-r: Pedro Casado, Pablo Iglesias, Pedro Sánchez and Albert Rivera at an election debate on Tuesday night.
From l-r: Pedro Casado, Pablo Iglesias, Pedro Sánchez and Albert Rivera at an election debate on Tuesday night. Reuters

Question. Tens of thousands of young people are protesting across Europe and Spain because they believe their politicians are not addressing the very serious problem of climate change. Why were issues like this not discussed in the election debates?

Answer. It tends to be a debate that does not enter the priorities of the media. But this government has laid the foundations for an ecological transition of the economy. We have approved a national energy plan that sets out to make our economy carbon neutral by 2050. In 2030, we are going to be using around 47% clean energy, compared to the 17% we have now.

Q. Do you think the election debates were edifying?

A. I think all debate is positive because it raises awareness of your political program. It’s evident that the right are going through primaries. There is a battle to see who will compete for the silver medal, for second place. But there is a real risk. Nobody thought that [Donald] Trump was going to be president of the United States and he won. Nobody thought that [Jair] Bolsonaro would be president of Brazil. Nobody thought that the right and far right would govern in Andalusia and that’s what’s happening. We are facing a real risk, that the right and far right will have enough votes together and do in Spain what they are doing in Andalusia. The only party that can stop the move to the right and the far right is the PSOE.

When Rajoy was prime minister, Vox was already on the radar of the right

Q. Why has Vox grown so much? Could it be a response to the no-confidence vote?

A. No. In the conversations that I had with Mariano Rajoy when he was prime minister, one of the things that struck me most was that he was already talking to me about the far right in Spain, about Vox. I’ve never said this before. When Rajoy was prime minister, Vox was already on the radar of the right, in their opinion polls. [...] The far right has always existed in our country, within or outside of the PP. It is a real threat, and it is a fearsome far right, because we are talking about people who have self-confessed Franco supporters in their candidate list, candidates who deny the Holocaust, who think that gender violence is a hoax, that climate change doesn’t exist, and who want to eliminate the system granting devolved powers to the regions.

Q. Are you using Vox to mobilize the left?

A. It is evident that there is a real threat and I cannot hide something that I think is important for Spaniards to know. Regardless of whether on other occasions, including in the next municipal and regional election, people vote for other parties, on April 28 we are deciding whether the regressive bloc wins or if we put a stop to it by voting for the PSOE.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal (3rd from left), PP leader Pablo Casado (c) and Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera (r) at a right-wing rally in Madrid in February.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal (3rd from left), PP leader Pablo Casado (c) and Ciudadanos leader Albert Rivera (r) at a right-wing rally in Madrid in February. EUROPA PRESS

Q. In the debates you looked very comfortable with Pablo Iglesias.

A. I only have words of gratitude for Mr Iglesias and [his political party] Unidas Podemos. There is a lesson from these 10 months [of the PSOE government] and that is that the left can understand one another when they want to and do great things for the social majority of this country. This is the enormous opportunity we have after April 28: to respond from the left to the new challenges facing 21st-century Spain.

Q. And Ciudadanos?

A. There is massive disappointment. Ciudadanos has embraced the far right and has begun its decline as a political project.

Q. If the option is an agreement between PSOE and Ciudadanos or new elections, would you change your opinion?

A. Monday is Monday, but before then we have April 28. If the regressive bloc triumphs, there will be more inequality, corruption will return, because the PP has not been regenerated, and political tensions and the conflict with Catalonia will become entrenched. This country needs a horizon of national understanding on these challenges, on the ecological transition, inequality, decent work, regional protection, and the positive contribution of Spain to the European Union, which has been weakened.

The only party that can stop the move to the right and the far right is the PSOE

Q. Why have you rejected a coalition with Podemos?

A. I have never rejected it.

Q. You have said you want to govern alone. Podemos wants a coalition.

A. Spaniards have been able to see that in these 10 months, with 84 deputies, we have put into motion a state pact against gender violence, regularized more than 240,000 jobs that were precarious and are now indefinite contracts, returned the unemployment subsidy for those who are over 52, recovered Social Security payments of female carers of dependents, reversed cuts to education…

Q. But if Podemos asks to form part of the government, would that be a problem for you?

A. For me? Come on. How would governing be a problem for me?

Q. Is it viable to govern with Catalan pro-independence parties?

A. They cannot be trusted. They know that independence is not possible. Independence leaders are inside their own labyrinth. When they get out, we will be waiting to find a space for dialogue within the Constitution that would help us to resolve this conflict of social harmony.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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