MADRID (AP) – Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday called surprise general elections for July 23 after his Socialist Party clinched an election victory severe ill-treatment in local and regional elections.
Ahead of Sunday’s debacle, Sánchez had insisted he would serve out his four-year term at left-wing government coalition partner United We Can and hinted that elections would be held in December.
But the outcome of the local and regional polls quickly changed things.
“I made this decision in light of the results of yesterday’s elections,” Sánchez said Monday at the Presidential Palace in Moncloa.
Concerns for Sánchez and his PSOE party come as Spain is set to take over the rotating presidency of the European Union on July 1.
Sánchez said he had with King Felipe VI. and will hold a special cabinet session later on Monday to dissolve parliament. The date chosen for the snap election falls in the middle of the Spanish summer holiday season as many people are unlikely to be in their constituencies.
In Sunday’s local and regional elections, Spain made a clear shift to the right, making the conservative People’s Party (PP), the leading opposition party, the main political force in the country.
“This is unexpected,” said Ignacio Jurado, a political scientist at the Carlos III University in Madrid. “Sánchez is trying to stop the rise of the PP as soon as possible.”
In the municipal vote, the Popular Party (PP) won 31.5% of the vote, compared to 28.2% for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE). For the PSOE, this meant a fall of 1.2 percentage points compared to 2019, but an increase of almost nine percentage points for the PP, which benefited from the collapse of the centrist Civic Party.
The PP, led by Alberto Nuñez Feijóo, won in seven of the twelve contested regions and dominated in several regions previously won by the PSOE, including Valencia, Aragon and La Rioja. It remains to be seen to what extent the PP will be forced to rely on the far-right Vox party to form local and regional governments.
PP also won an absolute majority in the Madrid region and capital, with Isabel Díaz Ayuso being re-elected as Madrid regional president.
Spanish regional governments have enormous power and budgetary flexibility in the areas of education, health, housing and policing
Sánchez said that while Sunday’s elections are local and regional in nature, the way the vote has evolved sends a message.
“I take full responsibility for the results and I feel it is necessary to respond and present our democratic mandate to the people,” he said.
The poor performance of the Socialists and United We Can was immediately taken as a bad assessment of public opinion towards the ruling left-wing coalition. The new left-wing group Sumar, led by second deputy prime minister Yolanda Díaz, also fell short of expectations.
“Sánchez reacts to one shock with another shock,” said Spanish political expert Sandra León. “He is also avoiding his party’s deterioration in two ways: through the cost of splitting the government internally by December, and through splitting with the PSOE party barons in the regions.”
She said the announcement will force the parties to the left of the Socialists – United We Can and Sumar – to regroup quickly.
Although the coalition government has pulled Spain out of the COVID-19 pandemic, turned the economy into one of the fastest growing in the EU and introduced several landmark laws, something was sorely missing.
“The message we received last night was clear: things need to be done differently,” Díaz tweeted.
Feijóo capitalized on his criticism of the coalition’s hopes of remaining in power by supporting separatist parties such as the Republican Left in Catalonia and the Basque Country’s EH Bildu.
Sánchez has been in office since 2018, when he tabled and won a no-confidence vote against then-PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. He then led the Socialists to victory in the 2019 general election.