Beaten in the last two elections and ousted as head of his Socialist party before making a spectacular comeback, Pedro Sanchez’s risky gamble to take power in Spain paid off Friday.
The instigator of a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over a mega corruption scandal tainting his conservative Popular Party, Spain’s “Mr Handsome” has finally won success.
With lawmakers passing the motion, Rajoy was forced out of office and the premiership automatically handed to Sanchez.
“I’m aware of the responsibility I’m taking on,” the 46-year-old said after the vote, immaculately dressed in a dark suit.
– Back on centre stage –
Fernando Vallespin, a politics professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid, described Sanchez’s no-confidence motion as a “risky bet.”
“Fate is giving him the opportunity to play a central role,” he said.
Until then, the Socialist party had been “on the sidelines” of political debate grouping the PP, the centre-right Ciudadanos and far-left Podemos.
With just 84 lawmakers in the lower house, Sanchez was forced to forge deals with Podemos, Catalan separatists and Basque nationalists to win backing for the motion.
Slammed by the PP as a “Frankenstein majority”, Sanchez’s new government is likely to be very unstable which could cut short his time in office.
Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence said the new premier would likely “try to pass some policy initiatives to prop up support” for his Socialist party.
That, in turn, could put it in a better position for early general elections.
“Sanchez is an audacious politician but not especially reflective and he thinks more in the short-term,” says Vallespin.
– Comeback kid –
Born in 1972 in Madrid, Sanchez grew up in a wealthy family — his father an entrepreneur and his mother a civil servant.
He studied in the Spanish capital before getting a Master’s degree in political economy at the Universite Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium.
Politics, though, was always his passion.
He was an opposition town councillor in Madrid from 2004 to 2009, after which he entered parliament as a lawmaker under Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s administration.
That ended when the PP swept to power in 2011 with an absolute majority, kicking the struggling Socialists out of power.
But he returned to the lower house in 2013 after the resignation of a lawmaker, going on to become Socialist party chief.
In the 2015 general elections, he came after Rajoy but tried and failed to form an alternative government with Ciudadanos.
Fresh elections were called in June 2016 and the Socialist party registered its worst result since Spain transitioned to democracy after the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.
Sanchez was subsequently ousted by his party, which held him responsible.
But he made a spectacular comeback in May 2017 when party activists voted him back to the Socialist leadership.
– ‘Opportunism’ –
Having got closer to Rajoy following last year’s failed secession bid by Catalonia, Sanchez nevertheless turned against him, prompting one PP lawmaker to describe him as “the Judas of Spanish politics”.
Rajoy on Thursday accused him of “opportunism at the service of personal ambition” while the El Mundo daily lashed out at him as a “leader devoured by ambition”.
But this ambition appears to have paid off.
“Today we are signing a new page in the history of democracy in our country,” he told lawmakers shortly before the vote.
PP lawmaker Rafael Hernando, however, said he was entering the prime minister’s office “through the back door”.
“For the first time we may get a prime minister who didn’t win elections,” he retorted.