Political greenhorns in Europe

Challenges facing new Spanish leader

Spain's new Prime Minister and Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez taking the oath of office before King Felipe yesterday. Mr Sanchez has promised his "main priority" will be to respect Madrid's deficit reduction commitments to the European Union, a
Spain's new Prime Minister and Socialist party leader Pedro Sanchez taking the oath of office before King Felipe yesterday. Mr Sanchez has promised his "main priority" will be to respect Madrid's deficit reduction commitments to the European Union, and one of his main challenges will be to try and find a way out of the crisis in the country's wealthy Catalonia region.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New leaders have grabbed the reins of power in Italy and Spain following a week of political drama. Italians now have a novice politician for prime minister in the form of lawyer Giuseppe Conte, while over in Spain, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez was sworn in yesterday as Prime Minister after a parliamentary revolt. As head of minority government with wide mix of backers he is likely to struggle to implement policies

MADRID • Spain's Socialist chief Pedro Sanchez was sworn in as Prime Minister yesterday, a day after ousting Mariano Rajoy in a historic no-confidence vote sparked by fury over graft woes afflicting the conservative leader's party.

Mr Sanchez, a 46-year-old economist with no government experience who has made a spectacular comeback to the frontline of politics, took the oath of office before King Felipe VI in the Zarzuela Palace near Madrid.

"I promise to faithfully fulfil the duties of the post of prime minister with conscience and honour, with loyalty to the king, and to guard and have guarded the Constitution as a fundamental state rule," he said without a Bible or crucifix - the first to do so.

His ousting of Mr Rajoy, a 63-year-old EU-friendly veteran politician who had been in power since 2011 and was present during the oath, comes at a time of political instability in Europe as Italy brings in a new eurosceptic anti-establishment government.

Mr Sanchez has promised his "main priority" will be to respect Madrid's deficit reduction commitments to the European Union.

One of his main challenges will be to try and find a way out of the crisis in the wealthy Catalonia region, where a new nationalist government was also sworn in yesterday, ending seven months of direct rule from Madrid following a failed independence bid.

  • 84

    Number of seats the Socialists hold in the 350-seat Parliament. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez will head up a minority government.

Catalonia's new leader, Mr Quim Torra, said he was committed to achieving independence for the region and wants to enter talks with Mr Sanchez.

But Mr Sanchez will struggle to govern as his Socialists have just 84 seats in the 350-seat Parliament - the smallest number for a Spanish government since the return to democracy following dictator Francisco Franco's death in 1975.

He will head up a minority government with the support of a hodgepodge of disparate parties like far-left Podemos and Catalan separatists. He has also vowed to implement the 2018 Budget designed by Mr Rajoy's conservative Popular Party (PP) government.

His arrival at the prime minister's office represents an astounding comeback for the man who led the Socialists to two crushing general election defeats - in 2015 and 2016 - and was forced out by the party apparatus.

Although he was re-elected as party head during primaries in May last year, the Socialists were often sidelined as Podemos, the centre-right Ciudadanos and Mr Rajoy's PP took centre stage in politics.

That all changed on May 25, when the Socialists filed a no-confidence motion against Mr Rajoy, a day after a court found former PP officials guilty of receiving bribes in exchange for awarding public contracts between 1999 and 2005.

Other opposition parties lined up against Mr Rajoy, who was also abandoned by his allies. An absolute majority of 180 lawmakers voted for the motion on Friday to loud applause and shouts of "Yes we can".

In his first comments after winning the no-confidence motion, Mr Sanchez, a former basketball player, vowed to tackle "all the challenges which the country faces with humility".

All of his allies in the no-confidence motion have stressed, however, that their vote against Mr Rajoy was not a blank cheque for Mr Sanchez.

"Our 'Yes' to Sanchez is a 'No' to Rajoy," is how Mr Joan Tarda of the Catalan pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya put it in Parliament.

Mr Sanchez will only be able to implement policy initiatives "that allow him to obtain an easy majority" in Parliament, said Professor Fernando Vallespin at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

The parties that supported Mr Sanchez will make demands he will not meet, predicted Mr Pedro Fernandez, a 68-year-old pensioner, outside of Parliament.

"When he does not do what they want, they will remind him that they brought him to power. And in five or six months we will either have fresh elections or they will oust him," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 03, 2018, with the headline 'Challenges facing new Spanish leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe