“I’m going to humbly ask for the trust of the Spanish people,” said the leader, who gained power on June 2 after a successful no-confidence vote against the then PP-led right-wing government, which had been at the helm since November 2011.
Lack of support for ‘the most socially-friendly budget ever’ proposed by the socialist, or PSOE government headed up by Sánchez has meant his hands are tied in terms of governing Spain this year, since it means the 2018 budget – already in place when he became president – will have to be carried over, curtailing spending on social welfare, education, employment and other crucial areas and putting paid to huge amounts of funding set aside for vital local and regional development plans.
The only way around this would be to pass ad hoc Royal Decrees, or Bills of Law, but with fewer than a quarter of the seats in Parliament held by the PSOE, Sánchez’s cabinet would always run the risk of being voted down.
The PP, led by the more hard-right Pablo Casado, and ‘soft-right’ Ciudadanos, led by Albert Rivera, voted against the budget, whilst the Catalunya secessionist parties rejected them in retaliation – they had requested a legal referendum on independence and the immediate release and acquittal of regional politicians, who have spent 15 months in jail following the disputed poll on October 1, 2017.
Whilst the right-wing considers Sánchez to be kow-towing to the secessionists, the separatists themselves will not support any of his moves unless it grants them a free rein towards self-determination as a nation.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the PSOE has opted to call elections in a desperate bid to secure the mandate of the Spanish people to proceed with their plans, which have included education and work reforms and a greater focus on equality.
With his presidency has been the result of ousting a former government rather than a democratic vote, Sánchez has been up against calls for an election since day one – and surveys show that around 80% of Spanish nationals want him to put his role out to the polls.
Sánchez’s government has largely enjoyed the support of left-wing Podemos, an independent party which burst onto the scene from a rented Madrid garage in 2014, going from a bunch of social activists to Spain’s third-largest political outfit with five MEP seats.
But the Catalunya regional parties are crucial in terms of numbers, meaning Sánchez cannot pass any laws or approve budgets without their votes.
The president says he has hit a political impasse and has been left with an impossible choice: either to ‘govern with a budget which is not our own’, or stick to their guns and continue to believe ‘as I believe’ that ‘Spain needs to evolve and advance’ rather than ‘going backwards in time’.
“Of the two options, doing nothing and continuing with an obsolete budget, or calling for the Spanish people to decide, I have chosen the second,” Sánchez said in an announcement before Congress this morning (Friday).
He says he has been unable to proceed as he did not have ‘the loyalty of the State’ and the rest of Parliament had ‘not been by his side’.
“The right-wing has blocked numerous legislative initiatives in Parliament, to the point of preventing the most important of these – the budget,” Sánchez says.
A protest on the C/ Colón in Madrid on Sunday, February 10 convened by the PP, Ciudadanos and far-right Vox – which does not yet have any seats in national Parliament – ostensibly against Catalunya’s leverage, but in reality to drum up support against Sánchez’s government was the last straw for the president, who says the debate is no longer about separatism but about ‘a Spain which wants the three right-wing parties to govern’ instead of ‘an inclusive Spain’.
Sánchez hotly denies the ‘secret pacts’ or ‘double messages’ he is accused of by the right-wing, who claim he is hand-in-glove with the Catalunya pro-independence brigade and says his aim is to establish a dialogue to resolve the problem.
His decision to appoint an independent rapporteur to mediate was met with outrage from the opposition and swiftly ditched.
“I’ll never give up on the quest for dialogue – I’ll be on it forever and ever. I’m no fan of looking the other way. That’s why the people of Spain pay me my wages – to solve their problems,” Sánchez says.
The PP and Ciudadanos wanted Sánchez to reapply Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would strip Catalunya of its self-governing powers and hand control of it back to the State as punishment for ‘disobedience’ – a situation which arose almost immediately after the October 2017 referendum.
But Sánchez has never been in favour of this action, since he considers an authoritarian approach would inflame the secessionists, creating an ‘us-and-them’ culture.
“The PP and Ciudadanos continue to deny clear evidence that applying Article 155 will perpetuate the political crisis,” the president states.
Holding elections on April 28 will mean electoral campaigns right throughout Easter and also during the Supreme Court trial of the ‘Catalunya 12’, the politicians held in jail for organising the referendum, which also involves another seven held in contempt of court for having left the country to avoid arrest.
Sánchez concluded by saying he was shocked that Ciudadanos, which had always fashioned itself as politically central, had cited him as a ‘red line’ and was railing against him rather than against the alt-right.
Concerns now abound that the election could see Vox increasing its influence at a national level, having failed to gain a foothold in government until the regional vote in Andalucía at the end of last year when it gained 12 seats out of 110.