Pedro Sánchez seeks leftist coalition to push out conservatives

Spain’s socialist party leader seeks to unite deeply divided party

Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez speaking in Madrid on June 18th: “In recent times we forgot who we were.” Photograph: Javier Barbancho/Reuters

Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE) leader Pedro Sanchez speaking in Madrid on June 18th: “In recent times we forgot who we were.” Photograph: Javier Barbancho/Reuters

 

Pedro Sánchez has tightened his control of a divided Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) at its two-day national congress, while announcing his intention to form a left-leaning coalition that would allow him to govern.

In May, Mr Sánchez won the PSOE primary, returning for a second spell as leader just eight months after he had been forced to resign from the post in acrimony.

This 39th PSOE congress saw him install allies in key positions in the party’s federal executive, giving him a dominance he never enjoyed during his 2014-2016 tenure.

“In recent times we forgot who we were,” Mr Sánchez told 8,500 party members gathered in Madrid to hear his headline speech on Sunday. “We forgot and you rose up to tell us: we are the PSOE. The new PSOE opens the way, it’s the PSOE it always was, which always led change and we are going to win the elections again.”

Mr Sánchez (45) stepped down as leader in October 2016, following a bitter conflict in the party over his refusal to abstain in a congressional vote and allow the conservative Popular Party (PP) to keep governing. After his resignation, the PSOE did abstain under a caretaker leadership, ending months of political stalemate but angering many of the party’s grass roots members.

Unlikely comeback

Mr Sánchez’s unlikely comeback was built on that outrage as well as his promise to move the party to the left. Although it remains Spain’s second political force, the PSOE lost millions of votes to the more stridently leftist Podemos in the general elections of 2015 and 2016.

But there were still vestiges of last autumn’s antagonism at the congress. Susana Díaz, whom Mr Sánchez defeated in the primary, stayed away on Sunday, as did former Socialist prime ministers Felipe González and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, suggesting the returning leader still has powerful opponents in his camp.

Others took a more pragmatic approach. “We’ve been through many months of internal torture,” said Emiliano García-Page, premier of the Castilla-La Mancha region, who backed Ms Díaz in the primary. “As someone who supported another candidate, the only option is to support the choice of party members.”

Corruption-plagued PP

In his speech, Mr Sánchez appealed to Podemos, on the left, and Ciudadanos, to the right, to help him remove the corruption-plagued PP of prime minister Mariano Rajoy from power. As leader last year, Mr Sánchez tried and failed to build such a coalition. There have been signs recently that Podemos would be willing to work with the PSOE, but the former has a poor relationship with Ciudadanos.

The next election is due in 2020, although a successful no-confidence motion could remove the PP from power before then.

The sense of a new era opening for the PSOE was made clear when it approved Mr Sánchez’s controversial proposal to deem Spain “pluri-national”, suggesting a willingness to listen to the grievances of Catalan nationalists. The Catalan region wants to hold a referendum on independence from Spain on October 1st, despite the Rajoy government’s insistence that such a move is illegal.

“Spain isn’t anti-Catalan,” Mr Sánchez said. “Spain loves Catalonia, Spain is plural and diverse.”