Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called a snap election, pitching the country into a period of fresh political uncertainty after a parliament veto of his budget laid bare his minority government’s inability to pass key legislation.
Sanchez said on Friday that the vote will be held on April 28, when he’ll seek to renew his tenuous grasp on power and hold off the advances of three right-wing groups that could potentially form a governing alliance.
New elections loom as opposition parties focus the ire of conservative-minded Spaniards on Sanchez’s policy of reaching out to separatist politicians in Catalonia who tried to split the region from Spain in 2017. Sanchez’s attempt to pass his budget for 2019 failed on Wednesday when it was rejected in parliament after talks to broker the support of Catalan pro-independence parties broke down.
“I’m convinced — convinced — that it’s possible to resume effective policies,” Sanchez said in his address, adding that Spain “doesn’t have one minute to waste.”
The elections extend a period of political uncertainty for Spain stretching back to 2015 when former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy lost his majority. He eventually reclaimed power after a 10-month standoff and a repeat election at the head of a fragile minority government. Sanchez himself became prime minister last June after winning a no-confidence vote against Rajoy with the support of Catalan separatist parties. But with only 84 lawmakers in the 350-strong parliament, building a stable majority to pass key legislation such as the budget proved beyond him.
Sanchez made use of executive power to push through a series of policies, including a 22 percent increase to the minimum salary. He also traveled broadly, seeking to promote Spain as an example of progressive policies that stand in contrast to the populist movements emerging in other parts of Europe.
In the end, Sanchez’s couldn’t overcome the limitations of his party’s weak presence in parliament and his reliance on nationalist parties as voting partners. A trial of 12 Catalan independence movement leaders that began in Madrid on Tuesday helped to harden attitudes as Sanchez said he would never accede to separatist demands that are in breach of the constitution.
On Sanchez’s watch, the Socialists relinquished power in Andalucia, where it had held sway for 36 years. The loss of Spain’s most populous region came as Vox, an emerging party on the political right, tapped into voter anger at Catalonia’s independence drive to emerge as a new force on the national stage. If the Socialist government falls, it could usher in a new right-of-center alliance that includes Vox. That would fit a paradigm playing out across the European Union that has seen populist and Euroskeptic parties win power or disrupt legislative work.
The shift comes ahead of European Parliament elections in May, which is shaping up to be a referendum on the EU itself. Nationalist or populist parties are already in charge of the governments in Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Greece, with right-wing groups gaining in prominence in Germany, Sweden, Latvia as well as Spain.