Spain’s PM Pedro Sánchez faces key test in regional elections

Spain votes Sunday in local and regional elections which will test Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez's chances of remaining in power after this year's general election.

Spain's PM Pedro Sánchez faces key test in regional elections
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez takes part in a campaign rally of the Socialist Party (PSOE). Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

In office since 2018, the stakes are high for Sánchez, whose party governs the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy in coalition with far-left Podemos.

Of the 12 regions going to the polls, 10 are governed by the Socialists either alone or as part of a coalition.

These regional governments have been crucial allies for Sánchez, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when he relied on them to impose restrictions on social life.

READ ALSO: Spain’s regional elections: Who will win in each autonomous community?

But the votes could mark “a turn to the right” whose magnitude could define the next general election, which has to be held by the end of the year, said Pablo Simón, political science professor at the Carlos III University.

The main opposition conservative Popular Party (PP) – which has for months topped opinion polls – has framed Sunday’s elections as a referendum against Sánchez.

“It is only by voting that we can start to turn the page on ‘Sanchismo’,” PP head Alberto Núñez Feijóo said Tuesday, using a derogatory expression for Sánchez’s policies.

Far-right kingmaker

Boosted by the near extinction of centre-right party Ciudadanos, the PP is confident it can win in six regions currently run by the left and boost its standing in Madrid, Spain’s richest region.

Polls suggest the party is especially well placed in four regions: La Rioja and Aragón in the north, Valencia in the east and the Balearic Islands, which includes the holiday island of Ibiza.

But in all these regions it would need the potentially awkward support of far-right party Vox to do so.

The PP has governed with Vox for the last year in the rural region of Castilla y León, where it has been regularly embarrassed by the far-right party’s ultra-conservative positions on social issues, especially abortion.

Vox is “determined to join as many regional governments as possible to increase its visibility,” said Antonio Barroso, an analyst at political consultancy Teneo.

“In contrast, the PP leadership would prefer to minimise the presence of Vox in regional executives to avoid controversial situations that might push the party away from the centre and potentially put off centrist voters.”

Can the left resist?

PP leader Feijóo – who won four consecutive regional elections in Galicia – has sought to move the party to the centre since he became its national leader last year.

He has “sold himself as a moderate” but “does not know what strategy to adopt” towards the far right, said University of Zaragoza political scientist Cristina Monge.

Sánchez is trying to mobilise the left by warning of the risk posed by Vox and highlighting his government success in curbing inflation and steering the economy through the pandemic.

He has criss-crossed the country in recent weeks to announce new measures including affordable housing for the young, more healthcare funding and two-euro cinema tickets for pensioners.

READ ALSO: Spain to give €2 cinema tickets to the over 65s

“Economic indicators are good,” said Monge, before adding that voters “don’t have a vision that is as apocalyptic as the right’s”. “The left is resisting better than expected,” she said.

In the event that the PP wins the year-end national election but still falls short of a working majority – even if it joins forces with Vox – the Socialists could have a chance to stay on in government.

This is because small nationalist and regional parties “are still more inclined to seal deals with the left than with the right” in a fragmented parliament, said academic Simón.

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Spain sees no risk to EU presidency from July snap election

There is "no risk" that Spain's upcoming European Union presidency will be affected by an early general election in July, Spanish Prime minister Pedro Sánchez said Monday.

Spain sees no risk to EU presidency from July snap election

Sánchez last week dissolved parliament and called a snap election on July 23rd following heavy losses for his Socialist party in local and regional elections on May 28th.

Spain is slated to take over the rotating presidency of the bloc from Sweden on July 1st.

READ ALSO: Who won where in Spain’s regional elections?

Asked if the general election would affect its turn at the helm of the bloc, Sánchez said the goals for this presidency were shared with the other EU member states and the European Commission.

“There is no risk that all the goals which we set before the elections were called will not be met during this presidency,” he said during a joint news conference with his visiting Swedish counterpart Ulf Kristersson.

“Other nations have held elections as well during their presidency and absolutely nothing went wrong,” he added.

Kristersson said he “fully shared” Sánchez’s assessment that there is “no problem at all”.

READ ALSO: Collapse of Spain’s far-left complicates vote for Sánchez

He recalled that Sweden held elections just before its presidency of the bloc while France held presidential elections in April 2022 during its EU presidency.

“Every country is very well suited to handle all the activities at the same time,” Kristersson said.

Sánchez had been scheduled to address the European Parliament’s plenary session on July 13th to outline Madrid’s main policies during the six-month presidency, but he requested it be delayed to September due to the early elections.

That would allow the speech to be delivered by a new Spanish premier in the event that Sánchez is defeated in the election.