Spanish PM calls snap election for July

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez called a surprise July snap election on Monday May 29th, a day after his Socialists suffered a major setback in local and regional polls.

Spanish PM calls snap election for July
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez delivers a speech during the parliamentary debate in 2022. Photo: PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP.

One day after Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE suffered major setbacks in local and regional polls, the PM called a surprise snap election for July 23rd. 

In a televised address on Monday May 29th, Sánchez said he had informed King Felipe VI of his decision to dissolve parliament and call a general election.

“I have taken this decision in light of the results of yesterday’s elections,” he said.

“As the head of the government and of the Socialist party, I take responsibility for the results and I think it is necessary to respond and submit our democratic mandate to the popular will.”

The PP secured just over seven million votes (31.52 percent) in the municipal elections, compared with nearly 6.3 million for the Socialists (28.11 percent).

It had long been anticipated that the general election would be held at the end of the year, likely the last weekend of November, but the Spanish Prime Minister has now brought it forward, citing the need for a “clarification of the will of the Spanish people regarding the policies and political forces that should lead this [next] phase”. 

“The best thing is for Spaniards to have their say,” he said.

PSOE sources told Spanish outlet La Sexta that the shock announcement shows that PSOE “understood the message” of the poor results, and are seemingly framing the election as a now or never poll: “If this country has to choose between a progressive government and a far-right government, do it now,” the sources said.

The decision also presents two other political curiosities.

By the time the general election takes place in July, a little under two months will have elapsed between the municipal and regional votes, something unprecedented in Spanish political history.

The decision is further complicated by the fact that Sànchez is due to take up the Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2023, between July 1st and December 31st.

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Spain’s Feijóo, the opposition leader who missed his moment

Once the runaway favourite to be Spain's next prime minister, Alberto Núñez Feijóo has become the man who missed his moment after failing to find parliamentary support to be confirmed as premier.

Spain's Feijóo, the opposition leader who missed his moment

After months of riding high in the polls, the 62-year-old leader of the right-wing Popular Party long appeared confident he would replace Socialist Pedro Sánchez as prime minister.

Despite winning July’s election, it was a Pyrrhic victory with the PP falling well short of the 176 seats for a working majority, even with the support of the far-right Vox.

Since then Feijóo has seen his fortunes falter, only winning the support of 172 deputies and failing in this week’s two parliamentary votes, cutting short his dream of becoming “the first prime minister from rural Spain”.

“Today I won’t be able to give you a government but we have been able to give you hope that there’s a political force that will defend all Spaniards, initially in opposition but sooner or later from government,” he said on Friday.

Acknowledging his imminent defeat earlier this week, Feijóo lashed out at Sánchez over his plans to retain the premiership through a deal with a hardline Catalan separatist party.

“No end, not even becoming prime minister, justifies the means,” he thundered, referring to plans to offer an amnesty to those facing legal action over the failed 2017 Catalan separatist bid.

Boxed in by Vox

A progressive moderate from the rural northwestern region of Galicia, Feijóo had hoped his moderate stance and dull-but-dependable brand would be enough to end Sánchez’s reign.

READ ALSO: Feijóo is out of Spain’s presidential race: What will Sánchez do now?

Elected four times as Galicia’s leader with an absolute majority, Feijóo had prided himself on being able to contain the resurgence of the far right, with Vox never winning a single seat in the regional parliament.

But despite his moderate image and his desire to turn the PP into a centre-right party, Feijóo quickly realised he couldn’t become premier without Vox.

That alliance cost him support at the ballot box and left him with precious few parliamentary allies.

He also made mistakes in the final week of the campaign, stumbling over pensions in a TV interview and boycotting a televised debate between candidates, leaving the field open to his opponents.

Even so, observers said it was too early to write him off, saying it was likely he would remain at the helm of the party.

“Although it seemed like that on election night — that Feijóo had missed his chance and was going to be ousted from the leadership… I don’t think the PP is going to do that because he still has a chance,” said Oriol Bartomeus, a political scientist at Barcelona’s Autonomous University.

And that second chance could come very soon if Sánchez also fails to pass a vote to be inaugurated as prime minister in the coming weeks, meaning Spain will be forced to hold repeat elections, most likely in January.

Village boy

Born on September 10, 1961, in the village of Os Peares, Feijóo grew up in a working-class family to a father who worked in construction and a mother who ran a grocery shop.

He read law in Santiago de Compostela, hoping to become a judge but became a civil servant in 1985 when his father was suddenly left jobless.

He got his foot on the political ladder in 1991 joining Galicia’s agriculture ministry with a politician who went on to become health minister and took Feijóo with him to Madrid in 1996.

There he ran the Insalud national health service, then headed the Correos postal service before returning to Galicia where in 2006, he became the PP’s regional leader.

Ahead of July’s election, questions resurfaced about his ties with notorious tobacco smuggler and money launderer Marcial Dorado, who was later convicted for drug trafficking.

In 2013, El Pais published photos of the pair of them in the mid-90s on Dorado’s boat and on holiday together.

Feijóo insisted he “knew nothing” about Dorado’s activities but fellow Galician Yolanda Diaz of the radical-left Sumar wondered how he could claim ignorance “when all of Spain knew who he was”.

Despite being fiercely guarded about his private life, Feijóo told El Mundo’s women’s magazine that becoming a father in his mid-50s with his partner Eva Cardenas was the “best gift life has given me”.

And he also admitted that he rings his mum if he’s had “a bad day” — which may well be the case on Friday.