Pedro Sánchez’s snap Spanish election gamble

Spain heads to the polls in July after ‘radical right’ party makes key gains over socialists

Pedro Sánchez speaking at a podium
Sánchez is taking the most ‘perilous’ risk of his career
(Image credit: Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images)

Spain is heading for a snap general election after prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and its allies suffered losses in local and regional elections.

The prime minister, who “has a reputation for judicious risk-taking” according to The Guardian, is bringing forward the general election previously set for December to 23 July. He leads a coalition in government that also comprises Podemos, En Comú Podem, and Galicia en Común – all left-wing parties.

The centre-right Partido Popular (PP) party, however, “had a field day” during the recent regional elections, and the “radical right” Vox party doubled its vote share. Sánchez’s own party and its allies in government “suffered a dramatic electoral reverse”, El País added, “triggering an equally dramatic response”.

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What happened in the regional elections?

Spain’s ruling PSOE “suffered heavy losses” in the 28 May regional polls, Reuters reported on the day when 95% of votes had been counted, showing their “vulnerability” in a general election year.

Just three of the 12 regions where voting took place “will retain Socialist dominance by very narrow margins”, with the remainder likely to be run by conservatives “albeit with coalitions or informal support agreements with the far-right Vox party”, said the news agency.

PP (known as the People’s Party) won 31.5% of the vote followed by 28.2% for PSOE, whose vote share declined 1.2% against 2019. PP “benefited from the collapse” of the liberal Ciudadanos party, which fed into a nine-point increase for the centre-right challengers.

The elections marked a “return to a two-party system dominated by the PSOE and PP”, said Reuters, following 10 years of more involvement by smaller parties. The left-wing parties “appeared largely to have lost its seats to the PP”.

"The map changes completely,” said Ignacio Jurado, professor of political science at the Carlos III University. This “is a boost for Alberto Nuñez Feijoo – the new leader of the PP” ahead of the forthcoming election.

Why has Sánchez called a snap election?

The prime minister has brought forward the general election to 23 July to “minimise the risks of further wear and tear on his administrations” after the country’s “right wing was emboldened by its resounding successes”, according to El País.

When announcing the snap poll, Sánchez said: “A clarification from the Spanish people as to who should lead this phase is needed. The best thing is for Spaniards to have their say to define the political course of the country.”

With PP “the main political force in the country”, Sánchez is now trying to “short circuit the PP’s rise as soon as possible”, Jurado told El País.

He hopes to “silence criticism within his party while also ensuring the national campaign will coincide with the tricky coalition negotiations between PP and the far-right Vox in multiple regions”, said Jacobin. The overall aim, The Independent added, “will be to discombobulate internal and external enemies”.

Is Sánchez likely to win the snap general election?

Calling the election “is a manoeuvre that Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister might describe as ‘brave’”, said The Guardian. And Sánchez “may well be setting himself up for a second rebuke this summer”, added The Wall Street Journal.

The prime minister “has become accustomed to taking risky decisions” throughout his career, said El País, “and now he has opted for the most perilous of them all”. But Sánchez “knows how to gamble”, said Euronews. He’s “built a reputation for taking bold, ambitious decisions with little input besides his own political instinct”.

By calling the general election, Sánchez has “turned the spotlight on Vox”, The Guardian said, telling voters “be careful what you wish for”.

“Some say it’s suicidal”, according to an English translation of analysis written by Ignacio Escolar in el Diario. However, “despite the enormous loss of power, the distance in votes… is not so great that Sánchez cannot come back”, he added.

“This will not be easy,” added Jacobin, noting a “rightward drift” among the electorate. The PSOE message has been “all is not lost”, with Sánchez “reverting to a defense of democracy strategy” to mobilise his allies. Ultimately, though, the left “must be able to offer something more – a hopeful horizon for the future”, the publication added.

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Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a freelance writer at The Week Digital, and is the features editor on ITPro, another Future Publishing brand. As features editor, he commissions and publishes in-depth articles around a variety of areas including AI, cloud computing and cybersecurity. As a writer, he specialises in technology and current affairs. In addition to The Week Digital, he contributes to Computeractive and TechRadar, among other publications.